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a smiling young woman in front of a yellow background

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R.1, R.3, R.4, R.6, R.7, W.2, SL.1, L.4, L.6

Kheris Fights Back

For years, other kids bullied Kheris over her dark skin. Then she found a surprising way to stand up for herself—and share her inspiring words with the world. 

Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP Images

Model Vibes
Kheris wears one of the T-shirts she designed and made.

    I’ll never forget the moment when I realized I stood out. I was in second grade. Kids would say stuff like “you’ve been in the oven too long.” They would call me a dead roach or a burnt biscuit. I realized they were making fun of my dark skin. It hurt—especially since the bullying came from other Black kids. 

    I got the message loud and clear: The only way to be beautiful is to have a light complexion. It made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I wished that I could change the way I looked.

    I’ll never forget the moment  when I realized I stood out. I was in second grade. Kids would say stuff like “you’ve been in the oven too long.” They would call me a dead roach or a burnt biscuit. They were making fun of my dark skin. It hurt, especially since the bullying came from other Black kids. 

    I got the message: It takes a light complexion to be beautiful. It made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I wished I could change the way I looked.

I was in second grade when I realized I stood out. Kids would say stuff like “you’ve been in the oven too long.” They would call me a dead roach or a burnt biscuit. I quickly realized they were making fun of my dark skin. It hurt—especially since the bullying came from other Black kids. 

Basically, what these kids were telling me was that the only way to be beautiful is to have a light complexion. It made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, and it made me wish I could change my appearance.

Colorism 101

    After those experiences in second grade, I learned the word for what had happened to me: colorism. That means treating someone poorly because of their skin tone. 

    Colorism is different from racism. If someone of a different race were treating me badly because I’m Black, that would be racism. When someone of any race picks on me for the dark color of my skin, that’s colorism. 

    And it’s not just a problem in the Black community. In India, women bleach their skin. There—and in other Asian countries—pale people are considered more attractive.

    The concept of colorism made me sad. Why did people feel the need to bring others down? Why did skin tone even matter? I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know how. Luckily, my family would show me the way.

    Later, I learned the word for what had happened to me: colorism. It means treating someone badly because of their skin tone.

    Colorism isn’t the same as racism. If someone of a different race picked on me because I’m Black, that would be racism. When someone of any race picks on me for the dark color of my skin, that’s colorism.

    This happens in many cultures. In India, women bleach their skin. There and in other parts of Asia, pale skin is seen as better.

    The concept of colorism made me sad. Why did people try to bring others down? Why did skin tone even matter? I wanted to change things. And with my family’s help, I did.

    After those experiences in second grade, I learned that what had happened to me was called colorism. That means treating someone poorly because of their skin tone.

    Colorism is different from racism. If someone of a different race were treating me badly because I’m Black, that would be racism. When someone of any race picks on me for the dark color of my skin, that’s colorism.

    And this problem extends beyond the Black community. In India, women bleach their skin. There—and in other Asian countries—pale people are considered more attractive.

    The concept of colorism really bothered me: I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to bring others down, or why skin tone even mattered. I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know how. Luckily, my family would show me the way.

via Instagram 

Celebrity Flex
Actress Lupita Nyong’o is one of many stars who love Kheris’s shirts.

Twitter Fame

    When I was little, my grandmother and I would do these things called affirmations. Every morning, we would look in the mirror and say nice things about ourselves. “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am creative.” 

    My grandmother was always trying to build me up, especially when others would bring me down. Her favorite saying was “you’re flexin’ in your complexion.” That basically means “you look awesome in your skin.”

    Still, I struggled with my self-esteem—and my big sister Taylor noticed. She would take photos of me to try to show me that I was beautiful. When I was 10, she tweeted one of them with the hashtag #FlexinInHerComplexion. We couldn’t believe what happened next.

    Within hours, the tweet went viral. People all over the world were saying that they loved my skin and my hair—the same things kids had teased me about! Others shared their own experiences of colorism. That’s when I knew that this issue was bigger than just me.

    When I was little, my grandmother and I would do these things called affirmations. Every morning, we would look in the mirror and say nice things about ourselves. “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am creative.”

    My grandmother was always trying to help me feel good about myself. Her favorite saying was “you’re flexin’ in your complexion.” That basically means, “you look awesome in your skin.”

    Still, I struggled with my self-esteem. My big sister Taylor noticed. She would take photos of me to try to show me that I was beautiful. When I was 10, she tweeted one of them with the hashtag #FlexinInHerComplexion. We couldn’t believe what happened next.

    Within hours, the tweet went viral. People all over the world said that they loved my skin and my hair—the same things kids had teased me about! Others shared their own experiences of colorism.

    When I was little, my grandmother and I would do these things called affirmations. Every morning, we would look in the mirror and say positive things about ourselves. “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am creative.”

    My grandmother was always trying to boost my confidence, especially when others would make me question my value. Her favorite expression was “you’re flexin’ in your complexion,” which basically means, “you look awesome in your skin.”

    Still, I struggled with my self-esteem, and my big sister Taylor noticed. She would take photos of me to try to show me that I was beautiful. When I was 10, she tweeted one of them with the hashtag #FlexinInHerComplexion—and we were amazed by what happened next.

    Within hours, the tweet went viral. People all over the world were saying that they loved my skin and my hair—the very things kids had teased me about! Others shared their own experiences of colorism, which helped me understand how widespread and serious the problem is.

Courtesy of the Rogers Family 

Taylor (left) and Kheris

The Beginning

    Two weeks later, my sister and I had an idea. We wanted to share our grandmother’s saying with the world. We hoped that we could spread the word about colorism and make people feel good about themselves.

    I’ve always loved fashion, so I decided to make T-shirts. We had 24 shirts printed with the phrase “Flexin’ in My Complexion” on them. We put up a website to sell them—and they sold out in 15 minutes! 

    With the money we made, I bought a T-shirt press so I could make my own shirts. Soon, business was booming. In the first year, we sold 10,000 shirts. People like actress Lupita Nyong’o and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg posted pictures of themselves wearing them. I started making backpacks, jackets, and more.

    Two weeks later, my sister and I had an idea. We wanted to share our grandmother’s saying with the world. We hoped to spread the word about colorism and make people feel good about themselves.

    I love fashion, so I decided to make T-shirts. We had 24 shirts printed with the phrase “Flexin’ in My Complexion.” We put up a website to sell them. They sold out in 15 minutes!

    With the money we made, I bought a T-shirt press. I started making my own shirts. Soon, business was booming. In the first year, we sold 10,000 shirts. Actress Lupita Nyong’o posted a picture of herself wearing one. So did talk show host Whoopi Goldberg. I started making backpacks, jackets, and more.

    Two weeks later, my sister and I had an exciting idea: By sharing our grandmother’s saying with the world, we might be able to spread the word about colorism and make people feel good about themselves.

    I’ve always loved fashion, so I decided to make T-shirts. We had 24 shirts printed with the phrase “Flexin’ in My Complexion” on them. We put up a website to sell them—and they sold out in 15 minutes!

    With the money we made, I bought a T-shirt press so I could make my own shirts. The business was a tremendous success, with 10,000 shirts sold in the first year. Celebrities like actress Lupita Nyong’o and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg posted pictures of themselves wearing them. I started making backpacks, jackets, and more.

My Message

    Running a business has been hard, but it’s definitely been worth it. At 11, I became the youngest person ever to show my clothes at New York Fashion Week. Many fashion designers work their whole lives to get there—and I did it! 

    But my goal has never been to be famous. My goal is to show people that they are beautiful no matter their skin color or tone. I get messages from people every day who say that I’ve helped them accept themselves. 

    Now, I love my skin. It’s beautiful—just like yours. 

    Running a business is hard. But it’s worth it. At 11, I became the youngest person ever to show my clothes at New York Fashion Week. Many designers work their whole lives to get there!

    But fame is not my goal. I want to show people that they’re beautiful no matter their skin color or tone. I hear from people every day who say I’ve helped them accept themselves.

    Now, I love my skin. It’s beautiful—just like yours. 

    Running a business has been challenging, but it’s definitely been worthwhile. At the age of 11, I became the youngest person ever to show my clothing at New York Fashion Week. Many fashion designers work their entire lives to get there—and I did it!

    I appreciate the recognition, but becoming famous has never been my goal. My goal is to show people that they’re beautiful no matter their skin color or tone. I get messages from people every day telling me that I’ve helped them accept themselves.

    Now, I love my skin. It’s beautiful—just like yours. 

ACTIVITY: 
Cause and Effect

You’ve just read “Kheris Fights Back.” Now it’s time to do this activity.

You’ve just read “Kheris Fights Back.” Now it’s time to do this activity.

You’ve just read “Kheris Fights Back.” Now it’s time to do this activity.

Tip: A cause is what makes something happen. An effect is what happens as a result.

Tip: A cause is what makes something happen. An effect is what happens as a result.

Tip: A cause is what makes something happen. An effect is what happens as a result.

What to do: Fill in the missing uses and effects below by writing your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

What to do: Fill in the missing causes and effects below by writing your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

What to do: Fill in the missing causes and effects below by writing your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

Cause: Why did something happen?

Effect: What happened?

Cause: Why did something happen?

Effect: What happened?

Cause: Why did something happen?

Effect: What happened?

Cause: When Kheris was in second grade, other kids said mean things about the color of her skin.

Effect:

Hint: How did that make Kheris feel?

Cause: When Kheris was in second grade, other kids said mean things about the color of her skin.

Effect:

Hint: How did that make Kheris feel?

Cause: When Kheris was in second grade, other kids said mean things about the color of her skin.

Effect:

Hint: How did that make Kheris feel?

Cause:

Hint: What did Kheris’s sister Taylor tweet when Kheris was 10 years old?

Effect: Taylor’s tweet went viral and got many positive responses.

Cause:

Hint: What did Kheris’s sister Taylor tweet when Kheris was 10 years old?

Effect: Taylor’s tweet went viral and got many positive responses.

Cause:

Hint: What did Kheris’s sister Taylor tweet when Kheris was 10 years old?

Effect: Taylor’s tweet went viral and got many positive responses.

Cause:  Kheris and her sister made 24 “Flexin’ in My Complexion” shirts and put them up for sale.

Effect

Hint: How quickly did people buy the shirts?

Cause:  Kheris and her sister made 24 “Flexin’ in My Complexion” shirts and put them up for sale.

Effect

Hint: How quickly did people buy the shirts?

Cause:  Kheris and her sister made 24 “Flexin’ in My Complexion” shirts and put them up for sale.

Effect

Hint: How quickly did people buy the shirts?

Cause: 

Hint: What do people say in their messages to Kheris?

Effect: Kheris feels good about helping others—and also about herself.

Cause: 

Hint: What do people say in their messages to Kheris?

Effect: Kheris feels good about helping others—and also about herself.

Cause: 

Hint: What do people say in their messages to Kheris?

Effect: Kheris feels good about helping others—and also about herself.

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