Friday, May 15, 2009

The Short Rebel

Dear Bloggers,

Every now and then I find myself extremely mentally fatigued due to being overly aware of how people see me. There’s an unbearable pressure I find people put on me to adhere to a type of perception they have.

The pressure started my first day of high school. When I first moved from Alabama, my family moved to East St. Louis. We lived there for a while and then moved to another town in southern Illinois. Even though we lived in a predominately White town, we continued to go to school in East St. Louis (from first grade until eighth grade).

Besides learning about reading, writing, and arithmetic we were also taught society’s perception. My teachers would sit us down, and explain to us that when we go outside the realms of East St. Louis, people are watching us. They expect us to be ignorant, but we had to prove them wrong. You could get in the same amount of trouble speaking “Ebonics” in class as well as being disruptive. I thought that my teachers were being too harsh, until my first day of high school.

Being at the predominately White school I didn’t necessarily feel out of place, but I did feel a need to prove myself. Most of the people in my high school went to elementary and middle school together, so they already knew each other. Because I was new people preceded me with caution. Then, when word got out that I was enrolled in East St. Louis schools prior to coming to my high school my first year I was treated as if I was deficient in intellect. The teachers would explain things to me slowly and loudly, and then look at me with a sense of sorrow as they imagined my life walking past dead bodies, dodging shootouts, and standing in line with my drug addicted single mother at the Welfare counter. People didn’t want to accept that my life was the complete opposite. I grew up in a two parent household that was upper middle class. No matter how many times I said it, my teachers and classmates thought I was trying to hide my shame.

Some of my White peers ACTUALLY expected me to know how to freestyle (“What, you don’t know how?!”), and teach them the “Black hand shake.” (“Ummm… WHAT HAND SHAKE?!”) Instead of being called my name I would be called: “K-Dawg,” and asked to “go off” on certain people (“like a Black girl does.”) Surprised looks came across some faces when I could not perform expectantly, explain that I’ve never been shot at, and “no, I did not know where Tupac is.”

Then, when I thought that I would find refuge in people of my own color I got the “You’re not Black enough” comment. Because I spoke properly, and refused to go with them to “hang out” in East St. on the weekends (Who does that?! On the weekends, people from East St. Louis come to MY neighborhood to hang out, go to the mall, and go to the movies). Comments would be shot my way, and then a look of surprise would come across their faces when I said something back at them (“You sound like a dude.” “Well, you look like one.”)

I was lucky enough to have a group of friends that didn’t hold me hostage to the bonds of stereotypes and accepted me for the person that I am; not how people would have liked me to behave. These people made my time in high school priceless, and I will be forever indebted to them.

But when I entered the realm of college, the color line seemed smudged and I didn’t have to try so hard to break people’s perception of me color- wise. But, I did have to deal with perceptions on my demeanor, my beliefs, and the way I look. I’m a happy person, but people tend to think that because I’m happy, I’m void of intellectual thoughts. Then, if I’m having a bad day, I would ACTUALLY have people come up to me and tell me that I shouldn’t frown or look angry, because people expect me to be happy (“Maybe I would be happier if you got out of my face.”)

I’m a Christian, and because of that people assumed that I am close minded and judgmental, when I’m the complete opposite (now I am). I cut off 16 inches of relaxed hair to be fully natural, and I find myself paranoid going on job interviews because studies have shown that people with straight hair are seen as more professional.

Sometimes I feel as though people expect me to put on Black face, smile obsessively, grab a slice of watermelon and tap dance next to a young Shirley Temple. If I do that, would I finally be able to be fully accepted? When can I finally get to be me? The girl who has imperfections, insecurities, and sometimes doesn’t have all the answers?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think I’m going to wash my face and retire my tap shoes…


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