“Diversity” and “Inclusion” flash above me in gold and black.
But looking around my campus, all I see are specks of brown and black in a sea of white.
As I walk into my classes, my eyes immediately begin searching.
Searching for someone who looks like me. Someone who is brown-eyed with darker skin and hair.
But to my dismay, none are to be found.
And so I find myself a seat in the back, watching as others avoid sitting next to me.
Wishing that just once, I wouldn’t feel like an outsider.
On a campus that fails to recognize the real meaning of “diversity” and “inclusion.”
I do not fit the American standard of beauty. My eyes are not blue, but the color of espresso beans, and my skin is far from fair. Instead, it resembles a shade similar to chestnuts that darken when roasted above a warm fire.
And I find that the question “Where are you from?” has a wrong answer. No one is truly interested in where I was born or where I grew up but in where the color of my skin and my distinct features come from.
And when I go to sit down in each of my classes, I realize that the seats around me are empty, and they continue to stay that way for much of the year. As if the color of skin immediately repelled everyone around me. I wait for my name to get butchered, and despite wanting to contribute to class discussions, the pressure of knowing that if I speak up, I am seen as speaking for all my people, for all the people who don’t look like them. And that alone is enough to push me into the comforts of silence.
Is it possible to stand out and be invisible at the same time? Because sometimes that is exactly how I feel.
“You’re pretty for a brown girl.”
“Wow! You don’t smell bad.”
“I thought your people only got A’s”
“Aren’t you supposed to be smart?”
With every backhanded compliment and degrading remark I receive, I am forced to ask myself whether it is because of who I am as a person or if they’re solely based on my skin tone. Sometimes it’s based on my personality and attributes. But most times, it’s based on my coloring. And in those moments, I am reminded of a privilege I don’t have.
I feel the pressure to assimilate, to speak like they do, to dress like they do, to eat the same foods and like the same things. But deep underneath, a heart beats of love for my heritage, my native language, and my roots. And I know that I do not want to be “white-washed.” Because the most beautiful thing about me is the very thing that others look down upon.
I am not just a person of color; I am more than just my skin tone. I am a person who loves to dance and work with children. I am person who is smart, not because of where you think I am from or the stereotype I seem to fit into you, but because I spend hours on in the library, hitting the books and giving my best, knowing that as a first generation student, I am privileged to even have access to a college education. I am also a researcher, a gym addict, a writer, a lover of froyo and elephants. I am many things. And I have and always will be more than my skin color.
It has taken me four years to finally realize that I am beautiful, strong, and worthy of being on this campus. And when I finally accepted who I was, learning to embrace everything that I am, I realized that I am authentic and raw, and that my skin will never be the limit of my identity. I am defined by my accomplishments, my character, and my passions.
Because my beauty and who I am has nothing to do with the color of my skin and everything to do with the confidence and love I have for myself.