Skin Deep

Being a teenager is all about sharing your experiences with the world. Isn't that why we're all here, to explain our stories, pass along bits and pieces of our lives, and hope for better for others? That's one of the major reasons I write this blog, to give personal insight to my remarkably eventful & highly reflective life. I'll say this now, this is going to be one of the most personal, eye-opening, and emotionally charged posts of all time. Get ready for some truth. I'm about to go skin deep.

Truthfully, I always wondered why it's taken me so long to actually blog about race, racism, ignorance, and all the things that go along with them. I mean, it's something I experienced on a daily basis while at college, and over this summer break whenever I was out and about. It's kind of a recurring theme in my teenage life, but I guess I never actually realized that I needed to share these stories until now. So here, I go. Race is hands down the most controversial topic in America. You don't agree, oh really - here's why ... bring up any other cause like marriage equality, abortion, or sex-trafficking any you'll find people from all different backgrounds and ideals being apart of an endless debate - when it comes to race it's only minorities who are involved in the conversation. The last week of school this year some hooligan spray painted a low-hanging wall on campus that tons of people frequent while he was drunk. He sprayed the n-word, not with an -a, an -ah or any of those stupid endings (they don't make a difference, it still and always will be a derogatory word) the -er. The residence director of my building, a woman of color, posted flier all over the hall and sent an email about holding a community circle to discuss the incident. She also sent an email about debunking beds for move-out. Guess which one caused an email chain? Let me debunk that myth for you. I showed up to that community circle and planned to take notes for next year as residence hall president for my campus - not knowing I'd be the only person to show up. The thing that hurts is if the word "faggot" - - "slut" or "tranny" had been written on that wall the entire campus would be on a man-hunt, and I'd be there with them, but when it comes to matters of race, hands-off, "I don't know what to do here." I remember talking to people on my floor and none of them got it. They said it wasn't a big deal, it was just a word. Even if it wasn't a huge deal, the fact that it mattered to me should have been enough reason to care. My college, the University of Vermont, has these diversity requirements where you have to take classes about other cultures and another race in the US. So many people were seriously, pissed and heated about the standard and want the "diversity" requirement to be about more than just race. While there are other kinds of diversity like gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status - I'm here to tell you that race is the one most necessary for people to understand. The rest aren't so hard for people to wrap their heads around, but when it comes to race people just shut down. While those classes accomplished little to nothing (except make a few ignorant white kids apparently experts of African culture *oh I live it and I'm wrong you say?) those are highly important first steps about breaking the taboo surrounding race. It's crazy that there's constantly this elephant in the room that no one is willing to acknowledge. Whenever a person of color (so anyone who doesn't identify as white) brings it up, white people retreat into themselves, avoid the conversation or get awkward as hell. What, you're afraid to talk about the fact that the color of my skin is different from yours or that because of that my life is drastically different from yours? You don't want to care about it because you don't have to? I remember in my African Religions class this kid sitting directly behind me saying that "We're ony in this class to learn how to deal with black people" - deal with black people? What does mean, that you shouldn't have to interact with someone who has a varying culture from yours or that black people can just be grouped and shunned? That's absolutely ridiculous, everyone has to interact with everybody else but dealing with people is not the way to do it. This is skin deep.

Let me give you some personal insight on how being African-American (yes, there's difference) has affected me. I can tell one of the first times I ever experienced racism. Third grade, I was new to Ohio, and it became painfully obvious when I came to school and had like 4 friends total because no one else would talk to me, that the color of my skin mattered. This kid, who lived in a trailer park,  had a skinhead for a dad, and smelled of beer and cigarettes on a daily basis out of nowhere, when I was climbing the monkey bars came and pulled me down off of them. My head land on the corner of the platform and it went in, deep. I held my head, it was pounding so hard, and I couldn't hear a thing. I told my friends, Maddie and Rachel, that I would be fine until I looked at my hands and the were covered in blood. My teacher at the time did nothing, absolutely nothing. I just walked to the nurses office and my parents came to get me to get stitches. It became painfully clear to me that the color of my skin might be a "problem" for people. That same year I was called to the office to take an English comprehension to see if I needed to be in ESL (English as a second language). My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Strunk *R.I.P, was infuriated. She said I spoke the best, most proper English she'd ever heard and this was an insult. I was born in Virginia, my parents immigrated to the US from the west-African country of Ghana (where the national language is English, proper British-English). At home we spoke and still do speak English and our native dialect of twi. I remember some random incidents from 8th grade, this meat head jock kid stopped me in the hallway and flat out asked me if I peed purple. No, my urine, for your information is the same as yours or wait, it's different since it wouldn't test positive for illicit substances or alcohol. Another time I was filling my backpack and get ready to go home, a kid runs by and yelled "Go back to Africa." I vividly remember my art class, everyone seemed to be so fascinated with me and touching my hair. People would just crowd around me and run their fingers through my hair commenting that it was like a rough carpet. My art teacher one day just told everyone to stop and leave me alone. It's degrading, I felt like a zoo animal in that class - why was my hair so different from everyone else's and what gave anyone the right to disrespect me like that. In ninth grade a group of seniors used to throw food at me from their lunch table, until I eventually went over to interview them for journalism class, and they realized I was cool and befriended me. So many more stories to come, this is skin deep.

This post is excessively long, but I've got a lot to say and these words need to be written. I'm not writing this to have anyone feel sorry for me, to feel pity, to want to help me. That's not what I require, it's understanding and an openness to realize what goes on. I think one of the most jarring experiences I have, and on a recurring basis is when toddlers, babies and other little kids at the supermarket (most often) or in some other store are shocked to see me. I live 3 miles from the amusement park, Kings Island, and in line to ride a roller coaster with one of my best friends, Taylor, this obscenely obese kid was hardcore staring at me. I was thinking, what has he never seen a black person, before and I realized I might have been his first. That sounds like I took his virginity, great - you've seen a person of color, get over it - I hope he remembers me. When we got to the turnstiles he said, "Why are you peach on one side of your hands and brown on the other" - he turned to his mom and asked "What's wrong with that guy's skin?" I'll never forget it. At the store when kids are like dumbfounded at my existence and follow with their eyes like their lives depended on it. I always smile and wave, and most of them do the same (my teeth are perfect, shout-out to my orthodontist Dr. Morris) - but some just retreat to their parents in fear. You're afraid of me, I don't blame them - I blame their parents, who've conditioned their children to fear anything and anyone "not white." It's a damn shame that people like that will never have the privilege of knowing a POC - because we're awesome. Let's get something straight, I love my skin and I'm comfortable in it. When I look in the mirror I don't see "charcoal black, darker than midnight or gorilla noir" I just see a person, myself. I wouldn't want to be anyone else, being African-American is challenging and annoying at times for other people's ignorance, but fun as hell and I perpetually stand out, which I have no problem with. Color is only skin deep, but true beauty goes beyond.

Being a teenager is all about facing the truth. People look and act differently. It's not up to you to be the ambassador to all that is diverse, but I challenge you to have an open conversation about what life is like for someone who's skin is a different color. It'll be eye-opening. To anyone of color reading this, be patient, kind, and willing to teach, if you're not willing then you can't expect people to care. Anger, and resentment, get you no where. Let it go, it's only skin deep.

My blog post question for the day is ... has a bias incident ever happened to you? Share your story here, you can do it anonymously if you'd like, just let people know you're there and not alone is powerful enough.


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