Until the age of eight I had absolutely no idea that I was black. While this may sound abnormal and strange, the truth is that I had no idea I was a different race. I grew up in a solid middle-class household with two parents and an older brother. Before I knew my race, I did not feel the weight and almost shame of my skin. Until I was eight, I had no idea what race was because I had never encountered racism. I did not know that my beautiful brown skin was the object of so much hate and oppression. It hadn’t yet been engrained in me that I would have to try twice as hard as everyone else— one because I am black, and two because I am a black woman.
At eight years old, all I wanted was to play a board game with a group of girls in my afterschool camp. They refused because their game was full. One of the girls said, “You’re black,” not as an observation but declaration as to why I could not join them. At the time I was more upset by the fact that I couldn’t play the game than the idea that my race had decided my exclusion from the game.
After that, a series of events happened in which parents were called and fingers were pointed. That all eventually lead to a long, quiet conversation with my mother about the color of our skin— how I was not ugly, unclean, or unintelligent, that the color of my skin was just that, the color of my skin. I wasn’t any different, or any less than anyone else, but I would spend the rest of my life having to prove it over and over again. She told me, “Be so good that they have to ignore your race.” A lot of tears were shed that night, all by my mother and none by me because I did not yet, nor would I for a number of years, understand the full degree of what she was sharing with me.
After that day, and to this day, I walk around with the weight of my skin color. From the age of 12 to 17, I wished more than anything else that I was white, because everything in this world had told me that I was not beautiful, I was not smart and I was not worthy of love. It was not until a relationship in which a former “boyfriend” told me I looked like a monkey that I worked through a lot of the deeply rooted hate towards myself and that I believed I am worthy of so much more.
It took a while for me to be comfortable in my own skin. I still struggle to be completely confident in my appearances. There are always setbacks. Specifically when a small voice in the back of my head says, “I wonder if he dates black girls.” Somehow it has become a stigma to be with a black woman. There are black men who will not date a black woman. It’s become a beauty standard to be tall and white, so as a petite black woman, I do not come close to these criteria at all. It is hard to find a woman in pop culture who looks like me— who I could look to growing up for confidence in my appearance. I was bombarded by images of ideal white beauty. I never want to hear a man tell me again, “You are pretty for a black girl.” All I hear is, “You are pretty for your race”.
Before this moment, I didn’t realize how much indirect racism I had experienced. Comments such as: “You’re not like other black girls,” or “You talk so white.” And a common and personal favorite: “Oreo.” They were intended as compliments, and I took them as compliments. But they were acknowledgements that I had become the exception of what Black was in their heads. I did not fit the stereotype that had been built up in their minds; I was the exception to it. It did not change what they thought of Black people. I was the anomaly in their equation that did not fit— that they did not account for. They decided to congratulate me for not fitting into their prepared box. I never want to hear another person refer to my personality as not coinciding with my skin color.
More often than not, I have experienced racism not from racists, but instead that unintentional racism born of ignorance— not hate. Most recently it was decided among my friends, who are predominantly white, that I should be Princess Tiana, the only black Disney princess, for Halloween. This was followed by a very stern conversation in which I declared that I could and would be any princess that I damn well pleased to be. In the same week, I had to explain twice exactly why black face is not and never will be okay—ever.
Experiencing racism by people who are not necessarily racist is something that I am not entirely sure how to handle. The problem cannot pinned to one source. It’s a result of widespread ignorance throughout our culture, as well as the negative stereotypical depiction that appears in media outlets. The people who reinforce these stereotypes are not bad people, but it does not make it any less difficult, uncomfortable, or painful— just sadder.
I cannot express the anger and anxiety that I have for racism. There is nowhere to put this burden. There’s no constructive way to let it all out. Yes we can talk about it, but that is not enough. A discussion is a pinhole in a dam. To hide it and bury it deep would only allow it to fester until it comes boiling out. There is no real healthy way for me to keep and cope with what others have pressed upon me. To hold onto all of it is just too heavy to carry. So, I have to let a majority of it go. I cannot and will not allow others to corrode me. Instead, I do my best to prove everything they believe is wrong. I put my all into all that I do so that I am not good, smart, or pretty for a black girl; I just am good, smart, and pretty. My skin color has nothing to do with it. They are wrong. They have to be.
I don’t feel free and I don’t feel safe. All I am is tired. I am 21 years old and tired. Tired of being followed around stores. Tired of looking over my shoulder. Tired of hearing my brother’s description on the news. Tired of wondering if my children will be able to play outside freely or if I will have to watch them like hawks. Will I have to make sure that the neon toy gun isn’t mistaken for a real gun? I’m tired of wondering about all the things I have to consider because I am Black. I’m tired of being accused of living while Black.
My mother had hoped that by the time she had children racism would be a thing of the past. That she would never have to tell her children how much the world hated them. I can only hope that by the time my children have kids of their own that they will never have to explain what I will have to explain to them.
Categories: Columns, Opinions, quinn hunter
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