The advice of “write what you know” is always, always given. What did I know? Well, I knew about a girl who hated being short, fat, and squatty. This girl was also told over and over that her hair wasn’t straight enough, that she’d be cute if only she were the right skin shade, and yes, perhaps her forehead was a little too big. So, when I began to write this story, I wrote what I knew...because that girl was me. And she’s almost every other girl—in some form or another—that I’ve grown up with or met along the way.
I’ve witnessed countless girls (and even boys) be judged and rated by their looks. Old church ladies or well-meaning elders compliment the light-skinned kids with good hair or colored eyes, but those niceties stopped with the dark-complexioned ones. This type of preferential colorism isn’t only found in the church aisles, it’s at family gatherings, on the dating scene, in the classroom, on the playground—it’s everywhere. And it’s not just colorism either. Too many times we’ve all heard “you’ve got too many freckles,” “your hair is too red,” “your nose is too pointy.”
As I began writing Genesis Begins Again, I knew this story about beauty must be told. As a teacher, I’ve watched students measure and compare themselves against one another. My heart quaked for the little pre-K girl noticing how her coily hair was so different from her friend’s long blonde locks. I’ve consoled a kindergartener being teased about her big, frizzy hair. It hurt to watch children choose light tan, instead of their own beautiful shade of brown from the multicultural crayon colors. Through every revision of Genesis I wondered, could our girls one day defy society’s definitions and norms, and define beauty for themselves? And more importantly, would they ever have the courage to be okay with their reflections, even if the world tells them otherwise? I sent off the final draft hoping and praying that Genesis Begins Again will not only become part of the conversation of colorism and self-hate but begin the journey to self-acceptance and love.
Alicia Williams is a graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University. An oral storyteller in the African American tradition, she is also a teacher who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Genesis Begins Again, a finalist for the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers Literature, is her debut novel.