I am a Black girl who was born and raised in a predominately White town. I was always (from kindergarten to 6th grade) the only Black kid in my classes; there might have been 20 children of my race in my entire school. I also grew up in a single parent home with no money. My father didn’t stay long enough to see me born.
I had dark skin, “black” eyes, and afro hair. My mom worked three jobs and couldn’t be a chaperone on field trips. The shoes I wore were from Wal-Mart and were worn until my big toes began to peek out. This girl was surrounded by light skin and eyes, straight hair, PTA parents, and name brand everything. Of course, my classmates and I had more dissimilarities than this, but these stuck out most to my 10-year-old self. Let’s just say…my classmates and I, we were different. These differences caused me to be extremely shy in school, all the way up until the 10th grade. The kids who were able to realize that the new girl wasn’t a snob, she was just shy, would later become my friends. Yes, almost every year after 6th grade, I was also always the “new girl”.
Try to imagine how I felt as a kid. I’m sure that you can, being different, yourself. Now, I want you to try telling a young girl that being different and unique is cool. Just do it. Go to a 9-year-old, 12-year-old, 15-year-old girl that you know and give her a piece of your mind. Say something like, “ It’s really cool that you’re the tallest kid in your school” or “Your clothes look great on you, who cares that they aren’t from the mall?!”. Say something like that to her and she will look at you like you have lost your mind.
Cliques- heard of a Gossip Girl book? Teams where kids aren’t allowed to join unless they pass tryouts- cheerleading, football, school plays, etc. Sororities-been to a college campus? Gangs. These are used to help bring kids together, but only if they can fit in with the group. If they can’t? Look on TV. Hate crimes, hazing, legal segregation, Columbine. The kids are discriminated against, persecuted, and worse.
“But these are just young kids we’re talking about. This is extreme!” But look at the situations through a young child’s eyes. No wonder they’re scared to be proud of things that make them different. Look at these situations; remember that these young kids grow up, and to become whom?? Telling one child that the unique attributes, the blessings they have are cool isn’t enough. “Bring Food from a Different Country to Class Day” isn’t enough.
What is enough? We adults using words and action, setting an example for once. Think about that the next time you try that craziness I suggested in the third paragraph.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.