You’re Black? Really?
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
I have finished my freshman year of high school, making it through rigorous classes, distance learning, and group projects. Yet one aspect of school that always challenged me was the constant doubt of my “Blackness,” or how black I really was. I had never faced that question before, though I knew it was a matter of time before I did.
For my entire education, I have attended Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). In elementary and middle school, my Blackness was never in question. Younger children do not focus on racism. They focus on playdates and friendship bracelets.
In the eyes of my classmates, I was the spokesperson for the entire Black race. Anything other Black people did, my classmates looked to me to explain. To them, I was approachable, therefore, they were comfortable.
I was someone who could not be “Black,” because I was more like them and less like the Black people they saw on television. I was not the stereotypical black girl: sassy and finger-snapping, like Zuri from the Disney Channel show Jessie.
I was known for being a good student. I was not particularly good at sports or dancing, two common traits that are often associated with Black people. I did not meet their criteria of what a “Black person” was, and as a result, they did not see me as Black.
When I got to high school, everything changed. I was not the only Black person there, and I was not like my fellow Black peers. There were several white students who thought that the other Black students fit their stereotypes of Black people and that I did not.
Those white students thought that I was not really Black, because of my being an Honor Roll student. They thought that I was mixed, because I have a lighter skin complexion in comparison to my other Black classmates.
At the same time, some Black students said that I was not Black, because I enjoyed things that they would label as “white.” I am not aware of a word that describes this “otherness” that I experienced from Black people and white people alike. I am treated differently by some white people for being too Black, and I am treated differently by other Black people for not being Black enough.
They assumed that I am mixed-race or not fully Black, because they did not think that a fully Black person liked the things that I liked or did the things that I did. When I told them otherwise, they revoked whatever “pass” they had given me for not being like them.
It is hard enough navigating through young adulthood, high school, and 2020, without the added pressure of having to explain something that should not be questioned in the first place.
I should not have to explain that although one of my parents may be of a lighter complexion, I can still be Black. Going into high school, I knew that I would experience questions about my ethnicity at some point, but that did not make it hurt any less. It is exhausting to constantly feel the pressure of having to prove your “Blackness,” even though there is no one way to be Black.
There are common experiences that tie Black people together. There are as many ways to be Black as there are shades of Black people. I wish had confidence in that belief earlier. I want to be there for those who are experiencing the same bias, as a listening ear or as a shoulder to cry on. I want to tell them that they do not have anything to prove to anyone.
I am angry, but I am also hopeful. I know that I will do my best to get rid of the bias that I and many others face. In 2020, we are living in a time where we are knocking down barriers and systems designed to work against us. The color of my skin does not make me any better or any worse of a person. I am Black and that is not for anyone to doubt or to debate.