I Will Define Who I Am

Ashley - Duncan, South Carolina
Entered on May 6, 2008

I Believe that I Will Define Who I Am

I am African American. Black if you will. Pleased to meet you. No need to know my name, it must be “ghetto.” No need to ask where I’m from, I must be from the slums right? Don’t bother to ask what my plans for the future are; I’ll be a dropout with four kids by the time graduation rolls around. One look at the color of my skin is all it takes for one to know my history and who I am. Right? Look again.

I am African American. Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Ashley, not Shantisha, not Quanetta, or even Ladayvia. I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and I have no children. I am an honor student, and I plan to go to law school and eventually become a Supreme Court Justice. Many frown, because this isn’t exactly what is “expected” of a person of my color. Society has already determined that, but I believe that I will define who I am. Not any stigma or stereotype.

I remember when I first came to the realization that the world had their own view of who I was, because of the color of my skin. I was sitting in a classroom with my peers, and overheard a conversation taking place between a group of young Caucasian boys. I was the only African American in the class. They were saying, “Oh, yea that’s my black name!” They then went on to laugh and joke further. I asked them “What is a black name?” They replied, “ Shaniqua, Latisha, Bonquisha…” in a mocking, exaggerated tone, “you know, something ghetto.” Other students around them heard their reply and laughed along. I told them that the situation wasn’t funny. Some of the students said they were just joking but the group of young boys insisted that it was hilarious. I decided not to press the issue further. However, I did not forget it. For it was in that moment that I realized that ignorance had caused a stigma to be placed on my race. It hadn’t been the first time, and it surely would not be the last.

Another situation that caused me to become knowledgeable about society’s labeling occurred last year, in the eighth grade. I was walking to lunch with a girl I knew. To get to the cafeteria, we had to walk outside. As we were approaching the cafeteria doors, our attention was suddenly drawn to the Intermediate school, adjacent to ours. A class was leaving the playground to go back inside. However, it was not this that had captured our attention. It was one of the young boys who was walking in with the class. He was Caucasian and had his pants literally hanging off of his behind, and almost reaching his knees. I made the comment, “ He needs to pull his pants up. That’s so disrespectful.” The girl I was walking with said to me, “ I know. He is trying to wear them like colored people do. He needs a belt.” She said something else, but I was too shocked to comprehend any of it. I asked her, “How do “colored” people wear their pants? And furthermore, if you were referring to black people, the proper thing to say would be African American. Everyone is colored, even you.” She looked at me and said, “ I’m not trying to be racist. You know that. I’m just saying that black people…boys especially wear their pants sagging. That’s all.” I told her that not all African Americans wore their pants to their ankles, and even if some chose to, they were not the only race of people to do it. I was very upset, because again, a stereotype had been placed against my race.

In both of these situations, I realized that because some people want to behave and live one way, an entire race would suffer for it. I happen to be one of those people, who has to deal with these consequences, of someone else’s actions. Because I am African American, I am not expected to make it to the top of society’s ladder. I am not expected to be successful. I am not expected to be a leader and role model for younger generations. I am not expected to be sophisticated. I am simply viewed as someone who should be using slang language, instead of proper English, someone who is “street” or “hood” as many would say, and be on drugs. Guess Again. Just because I am black doesn’t mean I have to talk, act, or live a certain way.

I am African American. Black if you will. Pleased to have met you. According to society, I’m supposed to be out on the streets “chillin with my homies.” I’m supposed to use broken English. I’m supposed to listen exclusively to what is known as “black music”, though there is no such thing. I am supposed to have a grim future, and be a complete failure. To some, I am even supposed to be nothing. But I have decided that who I am is up to me. The color of my skin doesn’t categorize me. I do. I could care less about who the world says I am supposed to be, because I don’t need society to tell me who I am. “I am America…Get used to me. Black, my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” (Malcolm X) I believe that I will define who I am. This I believe.