When did you realize you weren’t white?
Last week I got thrown into a conversation with someone about having to have ‘the talk,’ the you’re not white talk, with their 5 year-old nephew. I’ve never had ‘that talk,’ and from what I understand many kids of color don’t have that conversation, but it led to me contemplate when do children of color realize they aren’t white?
I’ve gone back into my memory bank and cannot remember as a child, a point where I mentally acknowledged that I was black. Growing up, my mother, before I was even 10, always emphasized being a woman and never to depend on a man, and rarely brought up race. It wasn’t until I was in high school, while discussing the need for a good education that she said, ‘you have 2 strikes against you, you are a woman and you’re black,’
I think the awareness of being different is strongly based on environment, I grew up in a small, middle-class town in Florida, that’s primarily white. I asked my roommate who was raised here in NYC in Washington Heights, when as a child, she realized that she wasn’t white. But growing up around faces similar to hers and in a place that is diverse, it wasn’t something she can really remember. Also I asked my hair stylist who grew up in Trinidad, and she seemed to think the question was crazy. It was something she never thought about, or even thought people had to think about, since she didn’t grow up being the minority.
When you’re very young everyone seems the same; you’re essentially colorblind. I don’t remember the moment where I realized I was different, but I do recall being in maybe 3rd grade, being in my prominently white school, with my all white friends, and my friends telling me and my cousin how we weren’t really black because we were nice and didn’t act like the other black kids. Mind you there were, what…like 5 other black kids? In theory that conversation probably started with us acknowledging being black, and my friends then rejecting that notion; so I had to know and acknowledge I was black.
I do know that I didn’t know what color I was when I was 5 or 6, or at least the meaning of nigger. When I was in 1st grade this kid Matt called me a nigger, I didn’t know what that meant, but I do know I didn’t like it. I mentioned it to the lady that watched my cousin and I sometimes, and she told me that a ‘nigger is a low-down, ignorant, stupid person and don’t let anyone call you that.’ She never mentioned anything about race. Not too long after that, Matt called me a nigger again, and I told him, ‘I’m not a nigger, you’re a nigger, because you’re low-down, ignorant, and stupid!” The fright in his eyes, was pretty hilarious, so much so, he went to the teacher, Mrs. (Bitchass) Norris, and told her that I called him a nigger. I politely told her how ‘he called me one 1st, and that I’m not one, and that he’s ignorant and stupid for calling one.’ Do know I got in trouble, and had to spend recess by a tree, while Matt got to play??? I never knew any of that was about race, but I quickly became aware of what unfairness was.
Anyway, I’ve slightly gotten off topic, but I’m interested in hearing other people’s stories of being a child and realizing they weren’t white. Or at least a time as a child, when you realized you were different, that people are different colors, etc. I’m going to keep jogging my memory, to find the specific day I had the realization.
Let me know your story…