While shimmying into my favorite swimsuit, I tried to contain my excitement for the third grade pool party.
I could not wait to get into the water, so as soon possible; I dove in, creating a colossal wave. As I resurfaced, I expected praise from my classmates about the splash, but instead I got stares of shock and horror. Confused, I consulted a classmate. She went pale and asked me, “What’s wrong with your hair.” The look on her face was one of sheer terror.
I bolted to the mirror looking for some terrible deformity to my appearance, but all I saw was myself: a girl with above average height, a gap toothed smile, brown skin, and my natural curly, tangled head of hair. I did not understand what had happened to evoke such a dramatic reaction, but this moment would be instrumental in my journey to self-discovery.
“What’s wrong with your hair.”
At the time, I was only eight years old. It was the first time I started to feel like an outsider in the only place I knew. Growing up, I lived in Colorado, in an area with little cultural diversity. Beginning at age six, I attended a school for advanced and talented young minds. There, I was the extreme minority; meaning I was the only black student in my class of around 100 kids. Everything different about me was so shocking to all of the other white students whether it be my skin color, the texture of my hair, or my actions. I had to face uncomfortable and hurtful situations that emphasized that I did not belong. The incident at the pool was the first of many that made me realize that I was constantly judged based upon my appearance.
For many years, I intensely questioned my identity. In the limited time I spent with other Black children I was scrutinized for being myself. I was deemed “pretending to be White” because I was focused on my education, spoke a certain way, and befriended people of blended cultural backgrounds. The White kids treated me so differently because of my appearance, but the kids who looked like me ostracized me as well. Even my African American family criticized me for identifying with their assumed idea of white culture.
In the limited time I spent with other Black children I was scrutinized for being myself.
My life at this point was so heavily-influenced by stereotypes, that I felt lost. Unsure as to where I fit in, I re-evaluated my situation. Why did I have to change myself to meet a stereotype? My actions should not be determined by what is expected of me based on my skin color. Overcoming this gave me the freedom to grow as a person unrestricted by others’ opinions.
This experience forced me to come to terms with the concept of individuality. It has inspired me to acquaint myself with different cultures and to discover the motivations of different people. This will be the driving force behind my college experience. On campus, it is my responsibility to join multicultural organizations. It is important that I contribute my time to unique activities that promote awareness. I am confident in whom I am, therefore, I have a passion to reflect on how I can improve and change from my community.
My life at this point was so heavily-influenced by stereotypes, that I felt lost.
In the mirror today, I see that awkward little girl transformed into a young woman eager to communicate intellectually, creatively, and culturally.