By Dennis J. Freeman
Natosha Dooling knows all about stereotypes. She understands how unfair labeling a person can hurt. She’s felt the pain from it. Now she wants to help others to overcome those barriers to become comfortable who they are. Dooling opens up about those experiences in her book, “My Eyes and My Hair.”
Tall and strikingly beautiful, Dooling, wife of NBA star Kenyon Dooling of the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t always comfortable with who she was growing up. That’s because in the neighborhood she grew up in-around the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area, a lethal combination of drugs, apathy, crime and contempt were mainstays.
Fort Lauderdale has one of the highest crimes rates in the country. Dooling said it was not an ideal environment to grow up in. The gritty climate made it difficult to attend school without running into some sort of confrontation, especially if you were a young, beautiful light-skinned black woman with blond hair and hazel eyes.
That was a daily struggle she had to deal with, Dooling told news4usonline.com in a recent interview.
“I could remember I was different from other people,” Dooling said. “That’s when I started having problems with other kids. People would say, ‘You think you’re white. My own family would even call me white girl. It really did hurt me.’”
The ugly taunts by family members and school peers were a constant. Getting into fights because of her looks became almost routine. Eventually, the ridicule brought her so much angst that the toll of the dark-skin, light-skin self-hate syndrome that confronted her, simply became too much for Dooling.
Dooling dyed her hair to a dark brown color to try to help eliminate the black-on-black discrimination she was going up against. To this day, Dooling keeps her hair a dyed brown because of what she went through as a youth.
“I told myself that when I got older I would dye my hair,” Dooling said. “To this day, I keep my hair dyed. I don’t like it. That’s the only thing I have not been able to overcome-that’s the color of my hair. I’m fine with my eyes. My hair is too light. I don’t like it at all.”
The dark-skin, light-skin debate Dooling was challenged with in her childhood is nothing new for African Americans. The controversial topic has raged for centuries, with black people sharply divided on the issue. Film director Spike Lee even highlighted the problem in his movie, “School Daze.” Books have been written about the issue before.
And division about the matter is just about as wide as it has ever been. But what Dooling is hoping to do in her book, is encourage young people to love themselves. Dooling says that encouragement starts with her own four children, especially her three daughters.
“I teach my girls how to love themselves,” said Dooling. “I’m trying to teach young ladies in the book to try to loves themselves, love themselves for who they are and not worry about what people are saying.”
That’s something Dooling failed to do. She worried about the name-calling all the time. It stung. The verbal bullying eventually left a scar on Dooling.
“It’s sad, but it comes from your own black sisters, from black women mostly,” Dooling said. “White women…they don’t give me grief. It came mostly from black women. I hated going to school. I got tortured every day. People wanted to fight me every day. They wanted to jump me. My mom stayed at the school with me, trying to protect her baby.”
The two constants that kept Dooling was her faith in God and her future husband, whom she met as a teenager. Those two are still the anchors in her life, said Dooling, who also runs a charitable foundation called the N-Zone. That faith in God has now moved Dooling to share her experience with other young ladies.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” said Dooling. “I just want to let young girls know that no matter what you go through, no matter what trials or tribulations you go through, you can overcome it.”
I write about sports, racial and social justice, culture, and everything else in between. Beat writer for the Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and Clippers. Part of the inaugural Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship class. Howard University alum.