Growing up in North Evanston, my life as a black girl was definitely altered by my social environment. For the majority of my life I’ve lived right off of Central Street, bordering Wilmette, and in my time here I have been the only black family in the neighborhood. I went to Montessori school until 6th grade, where my blackness was shaped more by other people than myself. I then transferred over to Haven Middle School where my blackness was questioned. Now onto Evanston Township where I was forced to find my own individuality. I have never had the chance to run into another black person while walking my dog. I’ve also never experienced a police car stationed a block away every day. North Evanston closely resembles other northern suburbs. And in this area I have grown up with inner conflicts of ‘not being black enough’ and then when I’m in my predominantly white schools I was ‘too sassy’. I had a fight off two vastly different diasporas, and I had to navigate my way through these in order to survive.
At Chiaravalle Montessori School, my grade level consisted of 11 other students. Though the group was surprisingly diverse, that didn’t take away the ignorance. I distinctly remember when I was about 11 a younger white girl and I was building something in the sand outside on the playground at school. Suddenly a little black boy walked past and the girl asked, “Oh is that your brother Maia?”. I had never seen that boy in my life, and I’m sure that girl had never even seen us together. I was thoroughly taken aback and confused. I responded with a simple quiet no. I wondered why I didn’t just assume that every white person was related. Her comment was oblivious I’m sure but surely stuck with me because I knew that wasn’t the last time I would be hearing comments like that.
No matter where you live, we are constantly bombarded with images of beauty and perfection, often times white beauty. When a little black girl is growing up, those images are so important. They not only shape their self-confidence but add to their originality. In North Evanston, you rarely see faces of people of color in positions of power, or even in general. All of these took a great toll on me. At night after school, I would write in my journal and beg God or someone, to give me blonde straight hair, lighter skin, and blue eyes. I was so ingrained in a white world that I lost my own self-worth in my own body and my black community. The only girls at school who were praised for their looks had these eurocentric qualities, and after hearing that over and over again it is what you believe is true. My hair was hard to comb and manage, and no one ever complimented my eye color, so it made the self-hatred seem justified. After being told that my skin color was like poop, I lost all hope. I straightened my hair and tried my best to blend in with my white counterparts so I could be closer to their idea of beauty.
When I moved to Haven, everything seemed to change. I was no longer ‘too black’ I wasn’t ‘black enough’. So I was quickly put into an environment with 700 new people from all different unique backgrounds and was told to be different. I was put into lower math classes even though I thought I was advanced, I was initially looked down upon by teachers, and nearly antagonized by my black peers. I was very confused, and I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I had a vastly different home life than many other black students but it still wasn’t similar enough to the white students. I was always in this middle ground of unbalance. Growing up black in North Evanston, my blackness was continuously interrogated. It forced me to learn that whoever I am, and whatever my passions are, that it is blackness and no one can tell me otherwise.