I’m shy and generally just introverted. That’s the way I’ve always been. I never know what to say or when to say it. If there’s ever small chance of me being the center of attention, I flee with a quickness. School was a nightmare for this reason. Oral reports were the cause of too many panic attacks to count. Jittery and anxious little ole me, how could I possibly be a black girl? I’m not like the other black girls. Everyone said so.
Why wasn’t I though? Why am I so socially awkward? Why don’t I have the same rhythm they do? Why aren’t I as effortlessly cool as them?
Black girls are supposed to be fearless, tenacious, and unwavering. Black girls are supposed to be calm, cool, and collected but with a sharp and witty tongue. A black girl commands the attention of a room.
She commands respect without uttering a word.
She’s assertive. Like so many people in my age group who grew up in a community with very few black people, characters in TV shows and movies were unfortunately the blueprint for what a black woman looks like and how she should behave.
Suffice to say I didn’t have NEARLY enough real life examples of black womanhood to make reference to. My family moved from Chicago to Wisconsin when I was three, leaving behind cousins, aunts, uncles, half brothers and sisters. My mom slept during the day — because she worked third shift — so she made arrangements for me to spend most of my time at a neighbors house (who happened to be white).
I found myself feeling indifferent toward my mom for deciding to leave Chicago. I wondered what my life would have been like if we had stayed. Without question I would be a completely different person, shaped by different experiences and guided by people who look like myself but with a considerably less white washed influence.
Whenever I visited Chicago for a few weeks during summer break, my cousins would play double dutch, they would have their own hand clap songs that had a completely different flavor than the ones I did with my white friends in Wisconsin. Every time I would go back, there was always a new dance they were doing. Their eyes would turn to me, large and bewildered every time I displayed my ignorance. I envied them. I was closed off and robbed of any chance of having what I believed to be a normal black childhood. I was the uncool “country cousin” who was oblivious to black culture.
I reassured myself I would be better off in Wisconsin. Mostly out of fear of not fitting in given the opportunity. I internalized what relatives and strangers told me:
“You speak so proper.”
“You’re not like other black girls.”
“You talk like a white girl.”
I learned to distance myself from blackness. I became accustomed to being subjugated to the white perspective. Internalizing all of our favorite tropes and forming a distorted and problematic view of what it meant to be a black girl.
Something changed in High school. I became increasingly aware of how painfully different I was from the people I grew up with. Things that were a non-issue suddenly became blatant in-my-face annoyances. From explaining my hair, to being asked to clarify rap lyrics. It’s like suddenly a switch was flipped and I instantly I wasn’t one of them anymore. They also recognized the difference. Most high schoolers tend to want to be around people who are most like themselves. Unfortunately for me, having alienated myself from other black girls, distancing myself from my friends meant I had very few people left to associate with. All of these things lead up to my current state of being. The social hermit. A depressed social hermit with few social skills to speak of.
Only a couple years ago did I realize that black comes in all shapes and sizes. It comes with every personality trait. It comes from every socioeconomic background and it comes with all the same uncertainty and vulnerabilities that white is so easily afforded.
Only now, at 25, am I able to recognize the complete and utter nonsense that was force fed to me. My hang-ups, my successes, my failures, my speech pattern, my sexuality, my interests, my intelligence, my strengths, my weaknesses, does NOT compromise my blackness.