In elementary school, I was oblivious to racial issues. I was in classes with mostly white people. All of my best friends were white; they were my sisters and brothers. When I was in elementary school, I rarely heard about or dealt with racial issues.
It wasn’t until middle school that I knew something was different. There was a boy who always called me horrible names and made fun of my dark skin. Who does that? At the time I wasn’t aware, but what I experienced was racism.
When I was a teenager, I loved going to the mall and stores with my mom. One notable shopping experience happened when I was 14 or 15. My mom, my sister, and I had gone to Kmart. Because I got bored easily, I usually wandered around the store alone while my mom shopped. Usually I stayed in the book section, but I was curious about makeup, so I went to that aisle to look at all the different products. You know that weird feeling you get when someone is staring at you? I had that feeling. When I looked behind me, I saw an employee turn the corner really fast. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when I made it to the next aisle over, the employee confronted me. I’ll never forget him. He was an older white guy with grey hair around the sides, and he wore round glasses. He demanded that I open my purse. I immediately started crying. . I didn’t know why he wanted me to open my purse, but I opened it anyway. I had lip gloss, my wallet, and a book in there. He demanded that I show him a receipt for my lip gloss–My half-used lip gloss. Through my tears, I told him that it was mine and that I didn’t have a receipt because my mom bought it from the pharmacy near my house. He huffed and walked away. I ran to find my mom and stopped wandering around stores for quite a while after that. I mean, I was so scared! I didn’t even tell my mom what happened. I was THAT scared. I thought I’d done something wrong.
Fast forward to later in high school. My group of friends was more diverse, but still included a lot of white people. Often, I had friends call me names like “Oreo” or “Black-white girl” because I “acted white.” I usually laughed with my friends about it, but I’d go home and cry. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I felt like I wasn’t acting the way I was supposed to. I didn’t like the stereotypical black things and everyone pointed it out to me. In the same breath, those who called me the previously mentioned names also called me “clear.” They didn’t see me as black. What does that even mean?
All of this, among other things, led me to self-harm. I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I mean, my friends couldn’t even go a day without pointing out how different I was. I felt like a freak.
I’m now 27 and confident in my skin. I know who I am. When people tell me they don’t see color, I speak up. When people say something racist, I speak up. When people say things to me in an attempt to joke around because I’m not a “typical black girl,” I speak up. Yes, I’m black. Yes, my hair is kinky. No, you can’t touch it. When the cashier at Walmart decided that I didn’t deserve a proper greeting, but instead asked for my WIC payment information, I spoke up. When the random woman in the mall walked by and said, “She is from Africa, look at the baby back there,” I spoke up. When the greeting card store employee followed me around the entire store, I spoke up.
I may not always share my personal struggles, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deal with racism. I feel like people forget that I’m black. I do experience racism. I do experience judgment. Just because you’re white and you’re my friend doesn’t mean that every other white person in the world treats me the same loving way you do.
I don’t even know why I feel that I need to disprove the claims from many of my white friends who think I don’t experience racism. It’s probably because every time I post an article about racism, I get asked “Well, how does that affect you?” It’s probably because every time I post a status update about racism, I am told “Brittany, I love you, but I am tired of hearing about this all the time.” It’s probably because every time I post a picture about racism, I’m told “Hey, that is reverse racism!” Getting an insider’s view of what it is like to deal with racism in America is not an easy thing to digest. You’re not going to always want to see it. Be happy that you don’t have to live that every single day.
Hey friends? In case you forgot, I’m black.