Being a black girl at my high school was a very strange experience for many different reasons. For the first couple of years I barely had any other black friends and therefore spent most of my time feeling like I couldn’t express my blackness. The remainder of my time there was weird in a different kind of way. I no longer felt out-of-place expressing my blackness, but I couldn’t stand up to those that disrespected it. Either way I felt like I was compromising on something too important to just give up on.
I find it ironic that my acceptance and understanding of black life and culture coincided with me big chopping and allowing my hair to return to its natural state. I had a relaxer for years but at the end of my freshman year I stopped getting them. By the fall of my junior year, I’d cut all of my hair off in an attempt to start over. I would have done it sooner, but I did not like the short Afro look that I would have inevitably had once the chemical relaxer was out of my hair.
I woke up one day though and after scrolling on Pinterest’s plethora of TWA pictures, I realized how beautiful the style actually was and decided to cut my hair.
Months later, I had started paying more attention to current events. To police brutality, to Black Lives Matter, to the Black experience in America and how I related to it. To the Black experience in my little suburban school and how the Black students interacted with each other, to the small comments made by peers that I now realize were racist but back then were just weird jokes.
I had a sociology course and when I saw it on my schedule, I was excited because I thought that maybe it would be a course that allowed us to explore our humanity and have honest conversations about the world around us.
I was fucking wrong. For many different reasons.
Not only was the teacher a woman who was months away from her retirement and literally counting down the days, but the class was just made of up of tons of terrible people. There was the alpha male/racist/misogynist/spoiled/football player, the skinny/long,greasy haired/cheeto eating/ basement living/racist/gamer type and about 4 or 5 other 16-year-old boys who looked like grown men with mortgages. I’m not a mean person and ordinarily I would just ignore these people’s faults. But when you’re a racist prick I get to make fun of you.
The spoiled football type was very loud and very ignorant, and I hated having to endure his hate speech all the time. This was my senior year in high school and only a few months before my graduation, which was a few months before the 2016 election. Football player was an unapologetic Trump supporter and used to get excited about the possibility of a race war if Trump had actually won. I repeat, this kid used to verbally speak about his excitement of an impending race war. No one had ever checked him or told him that his behavior was disgusting, not even me, and that’s something that I think about almost every day. My inability to speak up for myself, and the other minority communities he degraded makes me sick. To be honest though, the class was a joke and I literally used to watch House of Cards on my phone in there, tuning out everything and everyone. However, if there was ever a place to stand up for myself it was then.
On another day, we were reading articles about some confederate statues that were coming down as a result of continued work done by a local Black civil rights group. Long story short, someone set fire to and destroyed the equipment being used to take down the monuments one night and halted the progression of the project. Long haired cheeto man was very adamant in his belief that the Black organization were the ones destroying the equipment and halting the process. It didn’t take long for me and another senior to let the kid know that his opinion didn’t make sense. But arguing with him was like arguing with a brick wall.
Reflecting on those years is a little uncomfortable only because I hate that I was unwilling or afraid of standing up for myself and for my humanity. I don’t understand what it was. Maybe it was the fear of being perceived as the angry Black girl in class, and as I was the only Black girl in most of my classes, it was a label I did not want. Maybe it was the fear of retaliation or isolation from my mostly white classmates. Or maybe just the fear of being “other” in a place that thrives off of conformity. Whatever the reason, I’m still angry with myself for my inaction.
My proudest moment from high school was giving my Ted talk about cultural appropriation. I knew that it was probably the first time any of those people had been given a brutal and honest take on race from one of their Black peers. I made sure to include examples of things I saw at school every day.
I wanted them to feel uncomfortable enough to question their actions and consider what harmful stereotypes they may have been perpetuating.
I think I achieved this on some level. If not with every student, then with a lot of them.
While still in school, I wrote a blog post about race and how it operated within the walls of the school. It remains one of my most popular blog posts to date because I put it up on social media and everyone flocked to come and read it. All I did was talk about some of the experiences I had with teachers and students there. I’m glad I womaned up and wrote it because I think it was the first time I’d written something that made me extremely nervous and wary before publishing. This was due to the fact that I was being honest with myself and the people around me. The feeling is addicting.
Since college has started, I have been able to speak out more. My school is very diverse and we don’t really have the downtime like we did in high school. In other words, I can’t spy on people’s conversations and interject when they say something inappropriate. But in classes that encourage a lot of thinking and a lot of participation, I make sure to speak my mind, and not feel apologetic about it.
I don’t know if I’m being unnecessarily hard on myself. I’ve never been the type to step out of my comfort zone and say anything controversial(that’s why writing about it has become so easy) and the first couple of years of high school were all the proof of that I’d ever need. But I’ll always feel like I did myself a disservice by not speaking up when I had the chance. I think that’s okay though, because that just means I have to rest of my life to say what I need to say. Or to write what needs to be written.