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Agnus hid her face in the flaps of her faded blue collar when I reached to take a picture.

“No,” she protested. “I don’t look pretty.” She continued thumbing through the pages of Glamour Magazine.

My 13-year-old neighbor, with sheepish eyes and an unassuming smile, paused at a cosmetics ad. She traced her index finger down the highlights of the blonde-haired model. I never so desperately wanted a copy of Ebony. Essence. Uptown. Anything to counter the penetrated message that beauty is only European.

Black is not beautiful here. Women open umbrellas when the sun comes out for fear their skin will become darker. They use skin whiteners with chemicals so strong I often see light patches on their face and hands.

I came to Africa with this idealistic expectation of Black pride, natural hair and cultural unity. The first time I received a sideways glance after telling a cab full of Cameroonians that I was a Black American, I brushed it off, too jet-lagged to catch the message. Then, one of the kids I teach asked the question that I have yet to shake:

How can you be both Black AND American?

Read more and check out pictures of Heather’s Girls.

hfaison_pic_1Heather Faison is a digital journalist and award-winning web designer from North Carolina. As a YAN fellow, she will be teaching a New Media Advocacy class at the Bilingual Grammar School Molyko – Buea and teaching video production at the Buea Deaf School.

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