Strange, right? You see, in high school where most of the kids in attendance were African American, I was constantly accused of “acting white.” That term, to this day, baffles me when I think of its [loose] definition:
Acting White: Essentially a non-white person who acts like a stereotypical Caucasian person regarding culture, speech and dress
The definition continues to say that particularly, my success in education denoted a form of “selling out” by betraying my culture. So doing well in school was bad for my black cred, or nah?
As a teenager, at a time when I was all about trying to fit in, I could see how it was a problem for people but I didn’t understand why? Like why do you care? And enough to share this info with me on a weekly basis? What was wrong with reading for fun and practicing my SAT words and listening to Linkin Park? They were AWESOME!
Judging myself right now…
I’m not sitting there and calling you all kinds of stereotypical names for using AAVE, and quoting Bone Crusher song lyrics on the bus, DAILY. I let them live their life, why couldn’t they let me live mine? I was haunted by this notion that I was a broken black kid, and although my closest friends in high school accepted me for who I am, there would always be a place during that time where I was reminded that I was wrong. And it hurt me a lot.
I was convinced after that, since I was so “white” I would attend a college that would accept me and my quirks. By default, I went to a school in northern South Carolina 8 hours away from home and decided that due to the diversity, there had to be some kids like me down there. I would make tons of friends quickly and I’d start living the life I was meant to.
Nothing could have prepared me for that loneliness. I had two pretty close friends who were about that partying and drinking life which I wasn’t doing yet. I was constantly asked why I, a “Yankee,” was attending a school in the south by classmates. People would stare me down whenever I spoke trying to place where I was from. More often than it was acceptable anywhere, I heard kids in passing dropping the N-word in just daily conversation and it was mind-boggling. Like yooo, I thought I was making good life choices here and I just threw myself into an expensive mistake.
So like, you know, instead of sticking it all out, I transferred to another school closer to home and my friends. (Note: Sometimes I wish I stayed so I could have stuck it to those southern kids who shunned me and learned to be a stronger person, but MEH you know, sometimes you’re not meant to be about that life)
I loved my new school. It was a small liberal arts college by a beautiful river, not as diverse as I would have hoped, but that’s what made it an experience. You see, as a minority there in 2004, you sort of stuck out. It was easy to see other brown kids and kind of flock to them to find out how they got to the same place you did:
“This school is in the middle of nowhere, how’d you even find it?”
“By the magic of the Fill A Quota Gods, I was accepted!”
And that was the way to make friends of color down there. Going to high school where I did, shamed for being an Oreo like I was, I assumed most African American kids went to HBCUs where they would be with more like-minded kin. I felt safe assuming that other POCs on campus were like me and it was exciting. I wasn’t alone!
Once again I was wrong. But it was vastly different (and less emotionally damaging) this time. All of the brown friends I made didn’t “act white” like I was taught to know it as, but on the other hand they were into their education and smart, fascinating and engaging and I loved all of them for their differences and eclectic personalities. I was introduced to a new form of binary; You could be both “hood” and still into learning and bettering yourself. You can still text your friend “C U 2nite” and pump out a perfectly executed A worthy English paper, and there was no question of you “betraying your culture” about it. You were just you.
My new POC friends are also the reason I re-discovered my love for rap, hip-hop, soul and R&B music. They were who I looked to learn how to Pop, Lock and Drop It and Lean With it while I Rocked With it. Weekend parties at the townhouses and Quad introduced me to dark parties, corners and grinding, twerking and dancing in a circle with my squad (I wasn’t cool enough to have a squad) when that breakdown of Touch It dropped and it was awesome.
I was downloading everything from the Black Album to College Dropout, memorizing them word for word, reintroducing myself to Pac and Biggie, watching College Hill on BET (remember College Hill?!) and just feeling more like myself than I ever did. And every now and then I would have that thought to myself like “Look at how black you’re acting, wow” and I would laugh. I wasn’t “acting black” as reparations for all of those years of “acting white.” I had to train myself to stop thinking that these were acceptable terms to describe anybody because they were damaging. I was getting in touch with a culture I was a part of but not totally familiar with because I felt like I wasn’t allowed or welcomed to as a “traitor to my race.”
There was and is absolutely nothing wrong with being bookish and seeking knowledge and speaking like a walking dictionary while being a POC. If it’s something that our peers make out to sound like a horrible thing, either stop hanging around them, or learn a bigger and better word to baffle them with. We don’t need people in our lives who self-appoint themselves as authorities on culture and behavior. We already have media and the news trying to control how we live, and I prefer a life of subversion in that regard. Stop trying to control or let yourself be controlled by people who clearly can’t handle change and what’s different from them. That’s counter-productive.
Anywho, I love the experience I got from college. Not only did it teach me tolerance of myself, but of others, and that what you see on the outside is just a shell for all kinds of amazingness you can find inside of a person. My predominantly white school taught me that as a black girl it’s impossible to define me in just one way. If anything, it taught me that whatever labels people gave me weren’t the definitive markers or who I was as a person. But shoot, I’m still growing and learning more about that and myself and how I mesh in this society as a POC (which if current events prevail, apparently I don’t mean sh*t, but that’s another story).
Question: When was your “black awakening”? This question isn’t only for African Americans, but for any people that were born into a culture with predetermined expectations for their life.