Growing Up Black With White America's Standards
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Politics and Activism

How I Grew Out Of The Standards Of White America I Grew Up With

At one time or another, everyone experiences an identity dilemma whether it be based on race, religion, gender, or sexuality. Here's my story.

How I Grew Out Of The Standards Of White America I Grew Up With

I wasn't always this woke and pro-black woman. It took some time for me to get to where I am today. The truth is, I struggled with my blackness and truly accepting myself for who I was.

It all started in middle school when I went to the school of the arts. It was the epitome of white privilege. There were not many of "me" there. And of those who were like me, I didn't think that I could even think of relating to them. That was a time when I thought that there were two different kinds of black people: the ones who grew up in the hood, and the ones that grew up good.

I remember that word that those privileged kids always used to say when they would describe anything black: "Ghetto." And I remember doing everything I could to avoid ever being called that. I tried to assimilate to the white culture of that school no matter what it took.

I never wore big gold hoop earrings, I never wanted "weave" in my hair, I only wanted to wear Justice and UGGS and leggings with big sweaters. I was hiding my true identity behind stud earrings and straightened hair. It even got to the point that I never wore my hair out. I always had my mom twist up my hair so that it looked long and stretched out.

This search for who I really was, forced me to censor everything about myself, and reject my blackness in the highest regard. I denied hip-hop and rap music to prove that I wasn't like "them" and I even made sure to pronounce every word with perfect precision so that no one could question me. I let those people walk all over me like I was some experiment for them to play with.

There was this one time when I was in acting class, and we were working out the logistics for our upcoming play. And this girl started touching my hair... and I froze and I didn't know what to do. My mom had just twisted it up really nice for me and you know what this girl goes and does? She starts untwisting my hair, strand by strand. And I let her do this! Why did I stand there helpless and powerless while she pulled my hair because she loved how "bouncy" it was. I couldn't break my silence and ruin the perfect track record of quiet little Nia'Symone Francisco.

They never stopped! Never! They always asked me if my hair was real or why I spoke so well or why I wasn't like "other black people"! They always asked me if I was mixed with something because there's no way I could be "just black." (Granted I am of Honduran and Jamaican descent, but that's beyond the point!) I shouldn't have been singled out for the way I was and I shouldn't have felt like I had to prove that I wasn't like those "other black people."

And you know the worst part of all? I'll tell you. In my sixth-grade year, this girl wrote in my yearbook, "You are the whitest black girl I know" and I thought that was a damn compliment! A compliment! Oh, how naive I was at that time. I let that one little statement dictate my whole middle school career. I felt like I had to live up to that stupid statement forever.

Those stereotypical American beauty standards that were conjured up by my brainwashed middle-school mind followed me like a ghost.

I wanted to be light-skinned.

I wanted to have long curly hair.

I wanted to have skinny thighs and wear short shorts.

I felt, dare I say, ugly.

I was trying to be someone I wasn't, which was definitely the root cause of the anxiety that continues to haunt me today.

It's OK to not have it all figured out yet. It takes time to truly find yourself and embrace your culture. For me, it took removing myself from a toxic environment that was so cookie-cutter and stereotypical and putting myself in the realm of diversity.

I found my tribe and my vibe in high school where I was able to try new things, make amazing friends, and learn how to truly be myself. So I take my middle school identity crisis as a learning experience for growth and a bridge to true freedom from the bondage of assimilation.

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