When people ask me how many ‘black friends’ I have, I usually can’t give them a valid answer. Online, I have plenty black friends – mutuals of mine on social media platforms – that I treat and care for as much as I would any other friend. In real life, however, I don’t have many. In fact, I can count how many black friends I have on one hand, two hands if I consider friends I haven’t spoken to in a very long time.
That number may seem small – and it is – but when you put it into perspective, it is almost infinitesimal. I have hundreds of friends, ranging from those at school to those in my neighborhood. If, out of that many people I consider to be my ‘friends,’ only five are black, what does that say about me as a person, as well as how I interact with people?
Growing up, I always felt like the odd one out because of my race. In elementary school, I was the only dark-skinned black girl in my class, and I often felt at a disadvantage because I always knew that society saw me differently. Not only were my facial features unique, but my body was too. Growing up without enough of an exposure made me feel as if I were broken and too different to be accepted by my nonblack peers.
In middle school, the bill flipped. There were lots and lots of black people at my school, and I was eager to do what my mother always said and make friends that were like me. It was sort of difficult, though, as there weren’t a lot of black girls in my classes, and the ones that were didn’t mesh well with me. Instead, I befriended more nonblack people. In the sixth grade, most of my friends were either white or Asian (I had some Hispanic friends, too), but only a few – one or two – were black. In my clique, the closest friends that I had, I was the only black person there, and I didn’t truly notice – or care – about the differences, I was just happy to be accepted.
My mother was the one, however, who truly changed my thoughts about who I was.
“Why don’t you have any black friends?” she asked me, after I had gone through the list of my friends, and what each of their races were**.
“I have some,” I told her, reminding her of the two I had mentioned.
“Well, why don’t you have more?”
I didn’t really know what to say. Why didn’t I have a lot of black friends?
I went to school the next day and I realized why:
I wasn’t ‘black’ enough.
The black kids at my school listened to rap. They proudly claimed their black heritage. They sported cool, trendy clothes, used a lot of AAVE, and wore their hair natural. They were black and they loved showing it.
Meanwhile, I listened to anime openings and rock, proclaiming that ‘rap made my ears hurt.’ I flashed my mother’s British heritage with a smile, but tucked away the other half of my lineage, which hails from Guyana, in shame. I wore all black, spoke without using slang, and ironed my hair until it was straighter than a pole.
The realization embarrassed me, made me feel unaccepted. Because of this, I retaliated in a way that put the black kids down and brought up my ego:
I became severely antiblack.
I considered the kids at my school inferior, reminded myself that I was better off because I didn’t cater to the stereotype. In the beginning, it was harmful, just offhanded comments and external judging of those ‘too black’ to hang with me. Over time, though, my hatred backfired.
My own confidence plummeted the more my own body developed. I noticed that my butt was bigger than my friends’. I also had a hard time keeping fat off. Through media, I learned that being black was bad – white was better. I changed my perception of attractiveness to only see Eurocentric features beautiful. White guys were the primary objects of my affections (I would make an exception for gorgeous light-skin men), and men with skin the same color as mine were considered disgusting. I looked up various ways to bleach my skin, lose weight, or straighten my hair permanently. I realized that I was black, and I wanted desperately to change that.
Every time there was a black female character, she was usually a walking stereotype – loud, ‘sassy,’ and even rude, too black for me to appreciate her as a character. Instead, I related more to white characters, such as Britta in ‘Community’ or Cher from ‘Clueless.’ The lack of representation told me that being black wasn’t prime, and taught me how to hate myself – and my race – even more.
In the seventh grade I was introduced with a term that I felt exemplified who I was:
Oreo. Black on the outside, white on the inside.
Back then, I embraced that title, thought it was an honor to be referred to as ‘white’ than black. Now, I look back in scorn. Who was I to reject my heritage in favor of the majority? I never knew that there was more to being black than a checklist, and it was something I had to learn.
I can’t really pinpoint my understanding of my own race, but I can say that it was around the eighth grade that I started coming to terms with who I was.
Throughout the last year of middle school, I was plagued with jokes. My friends said I didn’t have a dad, told me that I was way too dark (going as far as comparing my skin color to ‘shit,’ or calling me a gorilla), taunted me with the phrases ‘fried chicken and Kool Aid’ or ‘watermelon,’ and even calling me the n word (with the -er at the end!) I knew it was their dynamic, and that they ‘didn’t mean it,’ but overtime my distaste for black people shrank, as I started to hate the collective less, but myself a whole lot more. However, times were changing. Being black was suddenly ‘in.’
The music, the style, the bodies, everything.
For the first time ever, I felt proud to be black. Witnessing everyone trying to take what we had and turn it into their own was a boost in my confidence I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Through establishing my own social media platform and connecting with people like me, I grew more excited about my race and heritage.
I decolonized my mind and began working to advocate for pro-black issues. I started voicing my encouragement for black representation in media, wanting every black girl to grow up understanding that her blackness isn’t a curse, but a blessing. I always bring up black issues and things that relate to me, no matter how much they make others uncomfortable.
As for my friends, I dropped the ones not willing to change. The company I keep is so much more aware and knowledgeable about how proud I am, and have addressed their past antiblackness with scorn.
I still struggle with who I am, don’t get me wrong. I go to a primarily white highschool and still find myself making friends with my whites than blacks, but only because there aren’t many to begin with. I am a member of my school’s black unification club, and I’ve connected with the people there in many ways, they’re almost like a second family. I still do have a problems with my body, as well as my less than Eurocentric features, but I am working on my own image as much as I can. In every creative writing piece of mine, I emphasize the importance of diversity (I can’t think of the last story I wrote without a nonblack female lead). Everytime someone asks me about my ethnicity, I bring up Guyana first and foremost. I brush off racial remarks as nothing but jokes – I don’t tolerate them, but I don’t take them seriously. My skin is too thick for me to get offended.
My advice to anyone out there that thinks they’re not black enough: You are black enough. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe, who your friends are – you’re black and you’re valid. White isn’t the default – everyone is jealous of what we have! Being black is a precious gift that we have, and society’s own stigma can’t take it away. Remember your blackness is beautiful, strong, smart, and amazing – no one, not even yourself, can take that away from you.
**My mother isn’t prejudiced, she’s just really curious about people and their cultures.