NEW YORK (AP) – Kheris Rogers was in the first grade in a predominantly white private school in Los Angeles when she felt the bite of racism among her peers – she was being bullied because of her dark skin. She tearfully kept it to herself, eventually turning to her older sister, Taylor Pollard, and switching to a more diverse school, where colorism among fellow African-American students surprised and confused her.
With her young sister’s self-esteem bruised, Pollard inadvertently launched Kheris to social media fame in 2017 when she posted a photo of the girl on Twitter dressed up for a fashion show, using their love grandmother’s down-home words for a hashtag: “Flexininhercomplexion.”
Soon, Kheris had her own Twitter and Instagram accounts (@KherisPoppin) and was posting photo shoots of herself that she and Pollard created. Her own fashion line followed, with T-shirts sporting her tagline, “Flexin’ in My Complexion,” along with backpacks reading “The Miseducation of Melanin” and other apparel and accessories.
Lupita Nyong’o posted a photo of herself wearing a black version of the shirt with bright yellow letters in support of Kheris.
While the words of her tormenters no longer sting, they haven’t been forgotten. The behavior wasn’t restricted to children, either.
“The kids would always call me names,” Kheris, now 12, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “They would always tease me for my dark-skin complexion. They used to call me dead roach and say I’ve been in the oven too long. When I really knew I was being bullied because of my color was when my teacher handed me a black crayon instead of a brown crayon to draw our portraits for parent conferences.”
Pollard, who at 24 is now Kheris’ manager, suspected something was amiss and Kheris finally told her family.
“I had no friends. I was only invited to one of the birthday parties that they had. Everybody else was invited and I wasn’t,” Kheris recalled.
Now in middle school, things are more than just a little looking up.
Kheris was chosen as one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” inspiring girls and femmes of 2018 and attended the magazine’s teen summit.