by Tajae Brown
by Tajae Brown
The first time I heard “You’re pretty, but I don’t date Black girls” was the first time I realized that I was different, from my classmates, my friends, everyone. I felt like I had a target on my forehead. I am a very open-minded person and never really saw race as a barrier between people. Unfortunately, that’s not how everyone thinks. From the minute I stepped onto my high school’s campus, I felt more than just the first day jitters. I felt judging eyes and sensed people were scared to stand too close to me. I am not saying that my freshman year class was racist. Rather, I am saying that I felt like my freshman year classmates probably had never before seen or interacted with someone who possessed skin darker than the sand.
Everything I did was either questioned or somehow fit into the stereotype of the “typical black girl”. I was asked countless times that year whether or not I fit into these stereotypes by people who thought it was funny to pick on me for a quality I have that is beyond my control. For instance, classmates would ask me: “Is that a weave?” “Can I touch your hair?” “Do you like fried chicken and grape soda?” “What about watermelon?” “Why don’t you wash your hair every day?” “If you’re my black friend now can I say the N-word?” “Why not? I’m going to say it anyway.” “Can you act Black?”
I routinely dismissed these questions with a calm “no”, glare, or an eye-roll signifying that the person was being rude and ridiculous in their “curiosity”. However, the last question always caught my attention. “Can you act Black?” What does that mean? Does it mean can I start talking unnecessarily loud without proper enunciation? Can I start wearing Jordan’s and 22 inch colored weaves and twerk? Can I “go ghetto” as they put it? Can I squeeze myself into that little box that the media has created to define how Black girls are supposed to act? No, I can’t do that. I can’t “act Black”. I am what I am. Saying I’m a Black girl doesn’t give anyone the right to call me an “Oreo” or make me feel as though I am less than what I am.
However, at the time, these comments did not strike me as more than a pointless attempt to be funny. Only now, while I reflect back on it, do I realize how ignorant my classmates sounded. Still, I saw my class as a microcosm for the way I and the majority of people of color feel the world sees us. I don’t think these those comments affected me in the moment because I was not nearly as socially conscious then as I am now. I also tried not to take things personally. In elementary school, a number of different people told me not to be so sensitive, despite how many times I was teased and bullied for the color of my skin. I developed a thick hard shell, making it hard for me to open up and be myself around anyone. I grew up a shy kid who never spoke up for herself or demanded much. I settled for what was around me and simply adjusted to flying under the radar. But not anymore.
My mentality has developed over time. Throughout my high school career, I began to understand what it is like to be Black in America. I have also learned how to love the skin I’m in and value my self-worth. I overcame these personal barriers and became the person I am today by finding other Black public figures that overcame the same stereotypes and negative comments. Despite such comments having been thrown their way, they still succeeded in their field and made important contributions to society. For example, the physician Rebecca Crumpler, who in 1864 was the first Black woman to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree, a degree I plan to pursue, since I have always had a passion for medicine. She used her M.D. to study and treat the diseases of women and children and care for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care. Or Serena Williams, who at first glance just seems like an amazing tennis player, but is remarkable in other ways as well. She dealt with and continues to face racism and slurs no matter how hard she works. She has one goal—to win—and doesn’t let insults get in the way of her goal.
I also follow different Instagram pages that embrace and uplift dark skin girls like me. Other pages draw attention to cultural appropriation and overall social injustices that the Black community faces, such as double standards for people of color, different branches of feminism, and the hypersexualisation of them. The Mosaic Project, these figures, and various social media pages have helped me grow and gain confidence and respect in myself, which together have convinced me that I can accomplish my goals and that I deserve to achieve everything within my power.
Even now, writing this essay, I know that most of my classmates will feel some kind of guilt for their insensitive comments and ignorant notions. I also know that the most offensive will become defensive and turn it around on me by telling me how my paper “kinda made me feel like shit.” But this essay is not for them.