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I Love Being Black

The gym was full of small bodies and high-pitched laughter. The first gym class of the school year and for many of us, our first year at a real school.

“Everyone needs a partner!” The teacher announced to us. Our feet shuffled across the cheap vinyl tile. I looked around excitedly yet nervous, I didn’t know anyone. “Do you want to be my partner?” I asked a blonde girl.


“Why not?”

“You’re not white,” she said shyly.

My mom tells me I cried for at least an hour, she had to come pick me up. She told me I was heartbroken yet confused, nothing like this had ever happened to me before. On the surface, a place like Utah is great; beautiful scenery, surprisingly lots to do, and the “nicest” people you’ll ever meet. For the first years of my life, I knew nothing different therefore I saw no issue; despite the overbearingness of the church keeping my friends from me on Sundays and the occasional mean boy, I had no complaints. But by first grade, I was forced to confront the reality that I was not exactly everyone else.

My class and I flooded onto the bus, tacky dresses and Sunday suits covered pre-teens filled the seats. As we sat down, relieved from the boredom caused by the Nutcracker Ballet, chatter filled the cool air. My friends and I made our way to the far part of the vehicle and sat down. As we made conversation and cracked jokes, the conversation quickly became volatile.

“Hey, Zoe! I have a song for you, listen!” The red-haired boy pulled out his small screened phone and began to type. Then, he extended his arm upwards with the phone in hand.

“We oughta send 'em all back to Africa

We oughta send 'em all back to Africa

We oughta send 'em all back to Africa

Where they belong

We oughta send 'em all back to Africa

We oughta send 'em all back to Africa

They oughta get the hell out of America

And leave the white man alone

Life in America would be so great

Without niggers here to demonstrate…”

I panicked. Bright red with embarrassment and betrayal, I looked around at the people who I thought were my friends unsure of what to do next. They all laughed garishly, their fair skin was pink with amusement. At this age, I knew exactly the nature and intent of the song. I knew experiences such as these far too well for an 11-year-old yet I still had no idea how to respond. However, looking back, I do not feel anyone truly knows how to respond. For some of us, instances like these may become more familiar or less surprising, but never easier as I now know. People, children especially, should be of no expectation to respond in the “correct way” for one simple reason; there is no correct way. Until you have stood before others as you are racially slandered, you have no sense of how it feels therefore no means of deeming which level of response is appropriate. Laughter flowed up the aisle of the bus all the way to the front. The song continued to boom against the metal interior of the bus, teachers turned their heads to the noise but took no action. After a short pause and no vanquishment of my anxiety, I laughed along sheepishly. I resented my own blackness, I didn’t want it. I asked my mom to straighten my hair any opportunity I got; I was uncomfortable when people mentioned race at all, when they asked, “mixed with white” I’d say.

“You will be working with your tables for this assignment,” my teacher announced. “We will be making a presentation on future careers you all may want to do when you’re older. Make sure everyone does their part and keep the volume down please!”

My table and I turned our bodies inwards towards each other. “So, what do you guys want to be?” I asked.

“A doctor,” one girl answered. “You get a lot of money and you get to help people.”

“Maybe a teacher,” another said. “It sounds fun and I like kids.”

“I want to be a police officer!” A short scrawny boy spoke, proudly and pale-faced.

“Why?” I asked.

“You get to shoot people like Black people or Mexicans, and do anything you want,” he said looking directly at me.

Once again, I said nothing. My face flushed red but this time, not with embarrassment, but anger and offense. That evening after school, I told my mom what had happened and the next day, she called and demanded consequences be dealt. The next morning, he and I were called into the office for a meeting with the principal, “finally something would be done,” I thought to myself though the punishment was no more than a mere slap on the wrist. As we sat adjacent in the office, the principal spoke with uneasy eloquence. At first, trying to make sense of the situation by getting the viewpoints of us each as if we were presenting evidence in a court case.

After repeating myself for what felt like the millionth time, she had reached her verdict. The sentence, a superficial apology, and the shake of a finger.

We walked through the store laughing and telling jokes, it was the first time I’d seen my aunts in a whole year. We grabbed a few bags of chips and some drinks and headed to check out. After, as we walked towards the exit, we were stopped.

“Excuse me, I’m gonna need to see your receipt,” the woman said rudely.

“Why do you need our receipt? Both of those couples just walked past you and you didn’t say a thing and they bought way more.”

“It's just random, I need your receipt.”

“It isn’t random, it's biased. Ask one of them then, not us.”

“Whatever, you people are so difficult.”

By 7th grade, I had moved away from my life in Utah and for the first time, I was surrounded by children of all races and all ethnic backgrounds; like a well-blended salad of all different flavors. Here, for the first time in my life, I was not different. I was finally able to be happy with myself without the bounds of race and skin color. This is a concept with benefits often overlooked, not only for the sake of black and brown children, but for white children too. The effects diversity can have on a child are enormous and extremely important when it comes to shaping and preparing a person for the rest of their life. However, this period was short-lived and ended with my move to small-town southwestern Ohio.

“I honestly just don’t see the big deal about it. If I want to dress up like a black person, I’m going to do it. It isn’t racist, that doesn’t even make sense,” said the blonde girl.

“It’s highly offensive and its origins are extremely racist. How do you not understand that?” I asked dumbfoundedly.

“Okay, but it isn’t offensive? I don’t see how painting myself black to dress up as a black person is any different than you painting yourself white to dress up like a clown,” another girl said.

“It’s about the history and intention behind it. There is no history behind dressing up as a clown. I’m sitting here, telling you as a black person, it is offensive and racist.”

“Just because you say it’s racist doesn’t mean it is. People just need to stop getting offended over stuff that isn’t even bad. I can do what I want to and you can’t call me racist, my best friend is literally half black.”

“What makes you think that you decide what is and isn’t offensive or racist towards us? If I, a black person, am offended by it, then there is a good chance other black people are too.”

“Well my friend told me it wasn’t offensive and she’s black. And besides, this stuff shouldn’t even be brought up in class.”

“Yes it should, obviously a lot of people don’t know enough about it if they’re defending it to my face with no previous research. And your friend, does she want to be?”

The way I view things, I am lucky to have turned out the way I have. For far too many young black and brown kids growing up in primarily white towns and schools, the pressure is too much and true love for one’s self does not prevail. It is truly saddening for me to watch and these children grow to be the very ones to subject both themselves and others like them to the same torment they once faced and were hurt by. Only now, the entire concept of it has changed. Somehow, they are able to twist the self-hatred they hold so dearly into a blind love and respect for those who do not accept them.

Each experience holds a different and unique place in my mind yet all have blended precisely into the person I am today. For many children of color growing up in primarily white areas where nearly no one looks anything like them is no easy feat. The struggle begins the day a parent is able to ingrain a bias in their child’s mind and spreads the day that child is able to convey this bias, whether they understand it or not. Although it is hard to grow up with, in a way it makes me even more proud of myself. I have been able to walk through the fire that is racism in a place where its disease affected everyone in some way, whether it was active engagement or simply sitting back and watching and perhaps cracking a joke every once in a while, and still come out with acceptance and love of who I am. Not only am I happy to be me, but I love being black. I would not change for the world. This is because for many of us, being black goes far deeper than the color of our skin. It represents the unity that has emerged from the pain and suffering those before us faced and we continue to face. It represents the strength each of us possess to be able to withstand the violent words and inescapable actions we are subject to.

Winning piece of the 2021 Mount St. Joseph Writing Contest in the Personal Essay Category

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