I was born in 1990, a very fair skinned. Surprisingly, I was born to a dark skinned family, but they loved me just the same. I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood where the color of my skin wasn’t an issue. I never knew a world of racial discrimination until I reached 6th grade.
Hamilton Middle School, my first taste of racism on a plate. I’d never been around so many white people before without a lot of minorities being around too. It seemed as if I was lost in the clouds, because I couldn’t see a speck of chocolate skin anywhere my head turned. I felt like an endangered species, although I knew I blended in with all the white-faced people.
As I reached my first class, I spotted one! It was a light caramel sista. She was light as tan suede shoes; however, she didn’t blend in with the fake tanned girls around. She stuck out like a sore thumb. I rushed to sit next to her with a gigantic grin on my face. I gazed at her excitedly and yelped “HI!!” she shot me a vicious glare as if I’d just called her mother out of her name. I knew she was not as ecstatic to see me, as I was to see her.
I thought maybe she was having a bad day, so I turned to meet the girl on my right. She wasn’t pleased to meet me either. I was so confused. Were these girls surfing the crimson tide? Or was this school as segregated as the Jim Crow laws?
Nothing made sense. I was African American, so why wouldn’t the black girl talk to me? I had the face of a Caucasian, so why did the white girl reject me?
Over the next few weeks, I stayed to myself. The hurt from not being accepted hit me like a rock. I didn’t know how to fit in, or who to fit in with, until my Spanish teacher assigned us partners to work with. My partner was an African American female, whom was different than the one I’d met my first day of school. She spoke to me as if my color didn’t matter. She listened to my ideas just as a best friend does. She made me feel comfortable in the class. It was a feeling that had left me since I came to middle school.
Once the assignment was complete, she asked me a question that left me stunned. “What are you?” she spoke. The look on my face must have given away my confusion, because she rephrased her question and asked what ethnicity I was. I told her my story; how I was the flashlight in the midst of the night. She understood. She accepted. She befriended me. She was the first to get to know me at this school. She was the first to step outside the racial box.
I’ll never forget how that school made me realize that racial discrimination still existed, and it lived in those as young as 6th grade. The whole experience taught me to embrace my culture, my heritage, and myself even if nobody else accepts it. I learned that you gain interpersonal skills when you fit in, but you learn more about yourself when you have a chance to stand out.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.