To Whom It May Concern,
The golden rule goes “treat others the way you want to be treated.” It’s what they constantly kept telling us growing up and it was the #1 rule, which is why I want you to remember that. If everyone followed it, people would be treated with respect and kindness because no one wants to be treated the opposite. And although it is a good rule to abide by, not everyone gets the memo to actually follow that rule.
It all started with my family. My mother came to America as an immigrant. Her family was spread out all over East Africa, so most of her childhood was spent living in different countries with different family members all over the region. One of her favorite things to do to keep her at peace was read, which is why she was always smart for her age. So when she did end up going to school, they found out she was above average and was offered a scholarship to come study in America. A little background about my parents is that my mom married my dad in Kenya, and he can’t come to America because he doesn’t have a green card. They were both close growing up together and got married when they were 17 after she finished high school. When my mom turned 18, she had my older brother so she couldn’t take the scholarship because she wanted to focus on being a mother, so she decided to stay in Kenya for a bit. When my mom turned 23 she wanted to continue her education in the US and applied for a green card and got accepted. And she left both my dad and older brother in Kenya in hopes that when she gets her college degree in America, she can sponsor them to the US. Little did my mother know, she was pregnant with me, but she didn’t know that when she came to America. She told my dad and brother goodbye and eventually reached her destination. Within the first few weeks, she was feeling sick and went to the doctor.
The doctor told her, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!”
She faked a smile and when she went home she cried, but she knew she was strong and brave, and that she could handle it. She told my dad and brother about it, and they were both happy and surprised. Thankfully, she had a smooth pregnancy and eventually I was born. Because she asked the doctor for the gender to a surprise, she didn’t find out I was a girl until she saw with her own two eyes.
I was born with a darker skin tone than the rest of my family. In my family, the majority of them favor brown skin and if they are dark skin, they use whitening cream to lighten their skin, but it never works out in their favor. For most of my childhood I went to daycare because my mom either had to go to work or school. So most days consist of going to daycare and when I was old enough to go to school, I eventually did. The daycare I went to wasn’t fancy but it was just me staying with my relatives and cousins. I was a shy kid so I never really socialized with people, and I was also following in my mom’s footsteps because I loved reading as well. Most of my relatives saw that and they told me that I was wasting my time reading books and I should learn how to cook and clean because one day I would get an arranged marriage. I didn’t want to do any of that but at home my mom always said to respect my relatives and make them proud, so when they started teaching me how to cook meals, I pretended I was willing to learn. When I was with my relatives, they would always tell me a girl doesn’t belong in school or in the public eye because it would be humiliating to her and her family. They would also bash my mother for coming to America to finish school and make a life and normally, they would talk about her behind my back, but one day, two of my aunts were talking about my family right in front of my face while they were both trying to teach me how to cook rice.
“She should have stayed in Kenya and told her lazy husband to come to America and work. Maybe that’s why he married her because he is lazy,” said one of my aunts.
“I know, and the fact that he is in Kenya raising one of their children. It doesn’t make him far from a woman,” said the other aunt.
I was shocked and embarrassed because my uncles in the living room overheard what they were saying and they started laughing. When my mom picked me up from their house that day and I told her everything and somehow she seemed absent. She wouldn’t even look at me when I was talking to her.
“Are you listening to me mom?” I asked
“Yes dear, I just have a lot of homework to get done tonight, so could you please go to sleep early?”
So off I went to my bed right after and I couldn’t sleep. I just kept thinking about everything that went down. How my relatives always bash my family, especially my mother when she is a hard worker and is independent, and how my mom didn’t even listen to me when I told her everything. It was like she was ignoring me, and I thought she was gonna be mad and tell me that I was never going to go to their house again. I looked at my alarm clock and it was 2 am and the living room light was still on and I was pretty sure that my mom was talking to my dad in Kenya since it’s the afternoon for them. So I didn’t think anything of it and I went to the bathroom and I could hear someone sniffing and whimpering. I walk towards the living room and I see my mom crying.
“Is the homework hard mama? Could I help you with anything?”
“No, but don’t worry about me, just go back to sleep, okay? But just so you know I am going to quit going to school and I am going to pick up more shifts,” said my mom.
Speaking of school, I went to a predominantly white school for most of my life, and the kids there were brutal. My relatives basically bullied me, so I knew from the beginning that I was different physically than them and the kids did too. They would constantly tell how their parents told them that kids like me aren’t supposed to be smart, or that I can’t graduate because of the way I look. I never really understood what that meant for a long time, but all I know is that my teachers loved me because I was an excellent student. I was eager to learn, excelled in almost every subject, and was willing to go above and beyond to be the best student I could be. So after my 5th grade graduation, we went to one of my aunt’s house and ate some food. And my mother asked about school and what I enjoyed about it and I told her everything; how the teachers loved me and how the kids treated me. That’s when two of my aunt’s pulled my mother aside and talked to her about my skin tone and how I should start wearing makeup when I start school. When I heard them talking about it I felt like I wanted to cry. It felt like a 100 needles in my back when I was trying to hold back my tears. My mom just nodded when they were telling her about me and what they think is wrong with me. When I came home that night, I went straight to my room and locked my doors. I cried so much it felt like I was drowning in my tears.
So when middle school started, I wore a lighter shade foundation and I would put it on any and every inch of my exposed skin. I did this every single day until I graduated high school. And when I graduated, I wanted to travel all over the world and become a journalist, but my mother said otherwise, as well as my father. He said that I should come to Kenya and get married and have a family and settle down. He also said that I was selfish for wanting to achieve those things and instead I should allow my brother to come to America and achieve his dreams. When I look back now I feel sorry for myself. I shouldn’t have felt that way about myself and how I was created. But unfortunately I didn’t have anyone in my corner. At school, kids made fun of differences, my family would do everything to shield my differences, and my relatives would look down on me based on my differences.
To whoever is reading this, I am truly sorry for the pain that I cost you, but I don’t deserve to feel like I am only tolerated and not loved. I don’t deserve to feel like I am a weight on everyone’s shoulder. Everyone has made it evident that they don’t want me here so why even try to force it. And clearly everyone’s life would be so much better if I wasn’t here. Once again to whomever is hurt by this decision, I am sorry. I’ve lived a hard life and as I am looking back while I am writing this letter, I realized no one ever wanted me. I didn’t make this decision to hurt anybody, so please just act like I never existed. Don’t let this decision that I have made hold you back from living your life, I just don’t want to feel pain anymore. And honestly I am just done. I went through a dark tunnel my whole life and I think this is my light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully, you haven’t thought that I committed sucide or hurt myself in any way. The decision I have made is I am going to pursue my dreams of being a journalist and am going to cut all contacts with any family members or anyone I have left behind. In the beginning of this letter I mentioned the golden rule and how you should treat others the way you want to be treated, and I realized that is what I have been doing all my life, but somehow that treatment hasn’t been reciprocated. I spent the majority of my life trying to realize why and question if I was the problem. The truth is I was never the problem, the actual problem was people were projecting their fears onto me. They would fear that I would be too powerful, or I would succeed as a dark skinned woman, or I would be treated horribly because of my differences, or I would diminish their egos, or worst of all – fear of standing for what I believe in and standing up for myself. There are two ways to rise to the top and one way to rise for some people is to bring down the people who are already above them, which is what most people in my life have done. I chose to do it the second way, which is to better myself, encourage myself, and most of all – follow my dreams. I have now flown to London to pursue my dreams of becoming a journalist, and will continue to rise. I hope you all do the same.
Sincerely, Layla Johnson