My entire life I have been surrounded by white people, and in school I was one of the few black students, from elementary through high school. That instantly made me the spokesperson for black people everywhere. It is not a job I want, and I certainly make it a point in discussions about race, that I can only ever speak for myself. Everyone has their own path to walk; mine just happens to be as a beautiful and intelligent black woman.
“You don’t sound like a black girl.”
“Why can’t you sing like Beyonce?”
“Your hair is too nice, you can’t be all black.”
“Why aren’t more black people like you?”
When I started trying to write this article, these four sentences kept popping into my mind. While some of them happened years ago, I still sometimes hear these awkward sentences, so let me shed some light on the situation. Contrary to popular belief, black girls don’t all “sound” alike. Some of us are from the South and have a drawl or a twang; others are from Ohio, where they speak the clearest English. But when people tell me that “I don’t sound like a black girl,” what they are really getting at is that I do not fit the stereotype. The first time someone told me that I “didn’t sound like a black girl,” I didn’t think too much about it. I was aware that I was more articulate than many of my peers in high school; after all, my mother drilled proper grammar into my head. The second time, I heard it, as a junior in high school I understood what was really being said. What exactly does a black girl “sound” like? Do you mean her accent? Are we talking about her diction? We black girls come in all shapes, sizes and sounds! Unfortunately, this is a statement that I have heard from people of all colors, and sometimes I just want to ask, “Did you just hear yourself, or is the dumbass filter not on today?”
In 7th grade, I was placed in the choir for the reproduction of the “Passion” play that my school put on every year. I guess the coordinator thought that I would be able to belt out the notes so I got a solo. When my mouth opened and the sound that came out sounded nothing like Queen Bey, our teacher, a religious sister, asked me to “sing like Beyonce.” That led to an awkward conversation between her and my mother and to this day I am not really sure what was said. This memory sticks out as one of the first times that I truly became aware that other people might only be looking at my skin and making assumptions.
Another common misconception people have about me, is that I love it when they reach out to touch my hair. When my hair was straight, I did not mind, I liked the attention. Plus, when I was younger, one of my friends had the longest red hair and I loved to play with it! I used to say that one day, I, too, would have vibrant red hair! One of the beautiful things about black women is that our natural hair comes in so many amazing textures. My hair, like many twenty-somethings, black or not, is a part of how I express myself. I was blessed with a head full of curly hair, although it took many years for me to appreciate it. Accepting my natural hair also meant having to establish some rules with my friends that did not matter when I was relaxing it. Yes, my hair is very soft and curly. Yes, it does look pretty. No, you cannot touch it.Why? Well, my hair is styled every day; even when it just looks like its hanging around my face, and your desire to run your fingers through it will cause me to look like a crazy. Like they say at the Louvre, “look, but do not touch.”
In my 20 years of life, I have found that nothing is more awkward than being the only black kid during Black History Month. Whenever we talk about the civil rights movement, affirmative action, or Barack Obama, the entire class turns to look at me. Yes, I am an intelligent black woman, but I do not have all the answers about black history and culture stockpiled in my mind palace! Contrary to the belief of some of my classmates, I do not get upset when their opinion is not as politically correct, or “favorable” to black people. I am not going to rush to indignation and assume they are racist because they do not think affirmative action is necessary. I am a believer that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and as long you are willing to have an open conversation I will respect and listen to that opinion. I would much prefer for you to acknowledge my blackness as a part of who I am, and not at the sum of my being. Because I’m black, not an alien.