Her: “Why do you talk like that?”Me: “Like what?”Her: “Like a White girl.”
I was confused the first time I was asked this. I didn’t know any other way to talk. This was my voice. These were my words. I knew that White people looked different than the people in my family and neighborhood. Other than that, I did not know any more. I was a Brown girl in a Brown world until I started school. My parents gave me Black dolls to instill a sense of acceptance of who I was. Even then, I loved my brown skin. My Dad, who was Creole, would always say that “his brown girl was so pretty.” I never knew that my brown skin would be an issue for others.
I was in the 2nd grade when I realized I was different. I didn’t think like them or act like them. Just different. I was moved to Honors classes where I usually found myself the only Black person in the class. The White kids made me feel unwanted. I remember being told “you aren’t smart enough to be in this class” during the first week. My test score were high. That shut some of them up but not all. They did not feel that a Black person belonged in this elite class. They let me know that I wasn’t welcomed, wasn’t one of them. I was ostracized in those classes. It just pushed me to work harder. And, I did.
I lived in two different worlds. At school, I was an island surrounded by white people in class. The only time I felt like myself was during lunch when I was with all of my friends. There was issues there too. Other Black kids in school and in my neighborhood picked on me as well. I was called “White girl” more times than I can count. One insult always hurled my way was that “I was talking White” or “trying to be White.” Neither was true. I was being my most authentic self. I talked proper because my Mother did not stand for slang. I was known to read the dictionary because I loved words so much since I started reading at 3. I was the odd girl out because I liked school. I was the girl sitting on her porch reading a book. Kids called me a nerd because “I was acting White.” Education was very important to my Mother. Failing wasn’t an option. Between the things she planted in me and shows like “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World,” higher education was not a dream but my reality.
Did their words hurt me? Yes. But, I was lucky to have a Mom who taught me that a person’s words mean more about them than they do to me. She always said “You are destined for more than this street and this neighborhood. And, your education will get you there.” I lived by those words. The White kids who were bothered by my Blackness in “their Honors classes” and the Black kids who thought “I was trying to be White” were all stepping stones for me to excel. I was on a mission. By the time I entered high school, I was excelling in almost all subjects. There were more Black students in my Honors classes at this point. The isolation I once felt dissipated. I was exceeding my own goals in school. I was happy.
Even now, at the age of 34, I still get told that I sound like a “little White girl.” It doesn’t bother me. I don’t sound how I look. I’ve embraced all of me. I sound the way God intended me to sound. All of this is just who I am. I’m a Black woman the color of milk chocolate, skin that’s been kissed by the sun and blessed by the Most High.