My first crisis of faith happened to me in kindergarten after a fellow student told me that only white people went to heaven. I knew I was in deep when I realized the people excluded from that equation were people like me. A true “oh shit” moment, the realization that my physical appearance was the reason behind why I could go to hell wasn’t the only basis for why my self-worth was completely dismantled in that moment.
Suddenly, I was more conscious of my own skin than I had ever been. I hadn’t taken much note of the visible way in which I stood out from the rest of my peers until that instant, but the sudden awareness of my darker skin and its implications made me feel like I’d eaten the forbidden fruit. I was suddenly conscious of my own skin and even now it’s the one physical attribute I am the most sensitive about.
Until that point, I tried my best to fly my blackness under the radar. Not because I wanted to be white. But because I didn’t want to be “other." I strained to bend myself away from any category that could befall a black girl. If black was loud, I’d be quiet. If black was angry, I’d be happy. If it was arrogant, ignorant, demanding, bossy — I’d be humble to the point of awkwardness, smart (but not too smart), easy to please and a natural born goldfish.
Eventually, I attended a large public school that was rich in diversity. I found black students who were just like me, and unlike my earlier years, learned about my identity and the history of my skin from teachers that were also black. My self-identity became fortified by a better understanding that black people too shaped and contributed to the progress of groups oppressed by their race, gender, beliefs, and class. Suddenly, I discovered power of black girl magic and I felt like I could be as persistent, loud and demanding of the things that I wanted as the students around me. I could be a completely different category: confident, proud black woman.
This year, with the race for the White House being one of its ugliest blemishes, reminded me of how hard I tried to assimilate with my peers in my younger years. As well as how blind to other negatively impacted identities we can be as a society.
The truth is, while the way that others have treated me based on my race have affected my self- esteem, it has given me a larger understanding of a struggle that many who are blinded by the glare of white privilege aren’t capable of fully grasping. This is where, in a world where racism is so woven into the fabric of our world, I have found I have an upper hand. Discrimination is the common denominator between me and the various cultures that are so different from my own. I’ve found similarity in the shared grief of knowing that we are not white. As much as my perspective has opened my eyes to the lack of tolerance in our world, it has also broadened my mind to a world capable of evolving beyond its flaws.
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Alex Portee comes from the exotic lands of Orlando, Florida. She writes on politics, entertainment, marketing, identity and everything in between. Check out her writing on BUST and Women.com. If she's not at the kid's table she's by the desserts. Follow her on alexandriaportee.com.