"You're so pretty for a black girl."
This is something I’ve heard all of my life. Occasionally, I'll also hear, “You just seem so educated for a black girl.” The list of comments I've received in my life that finish with "... for a black girl" goes on and on. Multiple people have told me I'm beautiful, but I never believe them: I could never accept these comments without having some kind of doubt.
People are often surprised to find that I don’t fit the stereotypical depiction of black women they're used to seeing. But when people tell me that I am pretty or smart "for a black girl," this tells me that what they really mean is they're shocked because they believe my race as a whole is neither appealing nor educated.
These reactions have made me feel unclear about my own identity. I’ve always felt that I have to work twice as hard just to keep up with others and prove that I am good enough. I have struggled with never feeling pretty enough just because of my appearance or the color of my skin. I have felt so desperate to feel wanted and accepted, to feel secure rather than confused about why my melanin isn't the same as that of my friends. I yearned to be confident in myself and not feel like I needed to be validated by someone else.
I know that I’m not the only one who has experienced these difficulties. I'm not the only one who worries what people will think about them when they walk into a classroom — if they will be the only representative of their race and therefore the poster child for their entire race.
The more I think about it, the more I realize how disheartening it is to have to even think this way — to always be on your toes, anticipating that someone will stereotype or judge you — and how sad it is to have a response ready just in case someone says something racist or insensitive. I hate to think this way, but now it’s part of my nature. It’s habitual.
I wish everyone could understand or at least try to put themselves into the shoes of someone different from them, someone who has experienced this feeling. I wish they would do so not so they will suffer, but just so they're aware.
Talking about diversity can be daunting, but experiences like mine show why such discussions need to happen. Yelling and screaming about this problem will likely make people feel scared or nervous and dissuade them from wanting to talk about it. But if we make the conscious effort to ease into it, and simply educate people about what they shouldn't say to others of different races or backgrounds from them, perhaps more people would be receptive.
Some argue that conversations about diversity are too uncomfortable, yet plenty of people live in discomfort and even fear based on the racist stereotypes and comments they face every day. Feeling uncomfortable while talking about these issues a few times a year, therefore, is nothing compared to years of feeling isolated or like an outsider all the time.
Refusing to listen to others causes anger and destruction. I know it's not possible to change the perceptions or views of everyone, but if we're willing to put ourselves out there and refuse to be afraid of educating one another, we can come together rather than turning our backs on one another.
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