In high school (and throughout life), we all have things we dislike about ourselves. These “negative” traits are sometimes magnified by our peers who either unconsciously or explicitly make us feel worse about them. Big nose, pimply skin, overweight — anything really. For me, it was constant ridicule from my black peers that I acted white.
Looking back, it seems foolish of me to be anxious about this. I mean, what were my black classmates really making fun of when they said I acted white? They poked fun at me for dressing in clothes that fit, having a diverse taste in music, speaking proper English and wanting to take my education somewhat seriously. Shamefully, the badgering made me strive for others’ approval. When I went shopping, I bought Fubu clothes and baggier jeans. I listened to more DMX, Nelly, and popular rap music. I started referring to schoolmates using the “n word” to assure that my blackness be solidified. Unfortunately it was the second most unnatural sounding word out of my mouth, directly behind “aight.” I can only thank God that there isn’t any footage of me during this short-lived phase. It’d be mortifying. The goal here was to do my best imitation of a stereotypical black caricature in hopes that I would draw less attention to myself.
While my facade faced less criticism than my authentic self, it was an acting job — and even top-notch thespians need a break occasionally. Some people might look at this and say, “get over it, everyone’s bullied,” but what is interesting about this particular case is the majority of the bullying came from kids of the same race as me. That’s just unusual. You don’t typically see the fat kids teasing other fat kids, or the nerds bashing the band geeks, do you?
Here’s another thought-provoking facet: I didn’t go to an underprivileged school. I was blessed enough to attend districts that had decent to exceptional schools. We weren’t rich by any means, but we always had sufficient classroom supplies, capable teachers, and most importantly: a legitimate chance to learn and advance in society. Nevertheless, I remember that being “from the ghetto” and fighting “the struggle” were perceived to be an ideal. It’s a strange concept that I didn’t grasp then or now. I mean, even if my peers were from “the ghetto” (which most truly weren’t), why not be ecstatic to have arrived at a better place now? The opportunity to prosper should motivate someone who didn’t previously have that. Or, at the very least, you shouldn’t make fun of someone who wants to carve out a different and better life for him or herself.
The treatment of blacks toward one another is often rotten beyond comprehension, and that’s truly unfortunate. There’s a misconstrued way of thinking in the black community, that well-spoken blacks desperately want to be white. That because one dresses a certain way, they think they’re better than others. A kid dedicated to his studies is a “school girl/boy.” A kid, who is good at math but bad at basketball is shunned by fellow blacks for not fitting the mold. It’s bigotry rearing its ugly head. In this case, the intolerance is coming directly from members of the same race, which makes it more difficult to fix.
The fact of the matter is that we can’t make everyone accept us for who we are. It troubles me that there are still many others out there who will deal with this, or some other verbal mistreatment. All I can suggest is that you stay focused on your goals and be comfortable in your own skin. Surround yourself with friends who love and accept you, as is — don’t try to convert yourself to be seen the way others want you to be.
Your strength is what society needs. Sadly, there’s still a prevalent, negative misconception of blacks. Many folks have been exposed to an aggressive, angry, handout-seeking, slang-using caricature of black people. It’s seen frequently on TV, in movies, and through music. As a result, some begin to stereotype blacks, as if this is the default way a black person behaves. And unfortunately, there are blacks who are not exempt from being brainwashed into believing these generalizations. They enforce these stereotypes viciously, banishing members of the same race for being anything dissimilar.
Here’s a colossal setback: jobs — the high paying ones — are given to educated, approachable, well spoken candidates. How can blacks improve if they bully the carriers of those qualities, deeming them “not black,” or “wanting to be white”? It’s as though some have accepted the commonly negative perception and the low expectations that come with it. If you weren’t as fortunate as others, and lived in a tough neighborhood, with inadequate learning options, I’m truly sorry. I wish, hope and pray that everyone gets an equal opportunity to flourish in this world. That being said, one doesn’t have to be a product of their environment. Some roads to success face more blocks and bumps, but there’s still a way.
My message to bullied individuals of any race is this: don’t get sucked into playing a role. There’s nothing wrong with being the person you are, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to prosper. It’s all right to speak in whatever manner you prefer, listen to music that moves you, have hobbies you enjoy, and wear the clothes you’re comfortable in. Whether your choices are ignorantly considered black, white, nerdy or lame, as long as you’re content? Do it. If you have an opportunity to attend school and learn, be thankful. I know — it’s not always easy to appreciate waking up early and doing work, but I promise it’s an honor, not just a privilege. This sounds cornier than the cob, but don’t change for anyone. You’ll see one day that staying true to yourself is well worth it.
Ultimately the human race in its entirety is in dire need of unity. We need to improve how we treat each other. I’m not going to achieving world peace via this essay, but I always have hope for the good in humanity to prevail. If this makes even one person feel more comfortable, because someone can empathize with them, then it’s well worth it. It’s honestly harder to experience than some might think. One time in 8th grade, as a result of using the word “acquaintance,” a fellow black student said to me, “I don’t give a sh-t what color your skin is, you ain’t black.” That remark stuck with me for some reason. From that day on, I began walking on eggshells around blacks who speak ebonics. And to be honest, I haven’t stopped walking on them since.