What Facing Racism In School Taught Me
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Health and Wellness

What Facing Racism In School Taught Me

If we took more time to see past the surface level and realize that we are all the same, the world would be a better place.

What Facing Racism In School Taught Me

Being Puerto Rican and White in an area that is predominately White and Asian caused me to be alienated growing up. My tan skin and curly hair were things that immediately stood out among a sea of blond hair and blue-eyed classmates. For this reason, these characteristics were viewed as something negative instead of unique.

I feel blessed to say that I was fortunate enough to grow up in a beautiful part of California called Palos Verdes. It is an area with ocean views, clear blue skies, and warm weather almost year- round. This picture-perfect area is also a place that I am fortunate enough to be far away from.

But, I remember coming home in elementary school and telling my mom that I wanted straight hair so I would look like other girls in my class. My mom looked into different places that offered that kind of hair treatment and booked me an appointment. I remember standing in front of the mirror running my fingers through my silky-smooth hair imagining what nice things my classmates would say to me for a change at school the next day.

While straight hair was a nice change from the tangled curls, I regret changing myself to fit in. I learned later that even with straight hair I could never change the fact that people did not like me because I was not White. For this reason, my peers wouldn’t hesitate to comment on how overweight I was, call me the “N” word, and at one point nickname me “Cuban Cigar”. My teachers would rush me on tests when I was supposed to get extra time and laughed as a student called me a stupid “N” word before throwing gum into my hair on a day I wore it curly. They ignored my classmates purposely cutting chunks out of my hair while jokingly reiterating the fact that they were “helping” me.

However, nothing hurt more than having a paper I had written handed back with “your words Kat?” written across the top. I could not hide the disappointment I felt upon the realization that the paper I worked hard on was questioned by a teacher who did not hide her distaste for me.

After she handed back the papers, she gave a lecture on how we should only turn in work that belongs to us and how anyone who did otherwise should be embarrassed. It was undeniable that she was only making eye contact with me throughout the entirety of her speech and my English class realized it as well. I knew that there were kids in my class who wrote better than I did and their work was never questioned.

While talking to this teacher, she became undeniably frustrated when she could no longer deny that I wrote it. She looked at me with glaring eyes as she compared my other papers to the one I had just gotten back. Finally, she threw her hands up in the air and shook her head as she shouted “I mean you couldn’t have written this yourself! There is no way, no way!! I mean come on! How would you know to put the comma here?”

I calmly reminded her that she previously lectured us on correct comma placement and promptly walked out of the room. She had made various racial comments regarding me and what she called “my kind”. For this reason, I saw no point in further explaining myself when it was abundantly clear that she was not going to change her mind. I could endure the comments made by classmates who were my age, but it was degrading being painted as a cheater by a teacher whose point of concern focused on how I knew where to correctly place a comma.

The most important lesson I have learned is it is easy to hate and be a mean spirited individual. However, enjoying life and being the best version of yourself is the greatest revenge in the world. I go out of my way to greet everyone with a friendly smile and “hello” just to let them know they are valued. It also taught me to appreciate and be grateful for everything.

I appreciate being eight hours away in a place that has quickly become home, and I am grateful for all the people I have been lucky enough to meet. I am grateful that my parents are just as excited as I am at my newfound happiness and don't mind that I don't visit as often as I should. I am grateful for the little things my friends do for me. After being criticized for everything for so long, I am grateful for how my friends compliment an aspect of my outfit every day, never having to eat alone, and for the nights where we are just sitting around the table laughing and enjoying each others company. I am grateful that my friends will never understand the magnitude of my love for them and how much their kindness means to me. I am grateful for the all-nighters I have pulled working on papers for class and how I get them handed back with a 98% and an occasional “wow!” written across the top.

Lastly, I am grateful for the person I have become. I take pride in knowing I am surrounded by incredible people, love the college I attend, and have found myself along the way. I am grateful that I did all of these things despite constantly being reminded that I was inferior and told I would not be successful. People fear what they don't understand. If we took more time to see past the surface level and realize that we are all the same, the world would be a better place.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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