Dear Queer White People,
Stop erasing my identity. My entire life through high school was doing just doing everything I could to fit in. Being one of the only Black people in the entire school, everyone already had a preconceived notion of who I might be, how I might act. The one thing that changed their minds about me was the fact that I got good grades, active in the arts, and played tennis year round. But this only made things worse for me: people started stripping away my identity. I wasn’t a Black female anymore, because I didn’t kink my neck when I talked, I didn’t clap my hands and go “mhmm” to everything my friends said, and I didn’t date within my race. It didn’t help that my immigrant parents insisted that none of us act like “those” Black people you see on tv. Except for one girl: Beverly, who had moved in from Texas. Beverly had been my ally for the two years that she was at school before she moved away again, and helped me to “regain” a smidgen of Blackness in the eyes of our classmates.
But when she left again, it was back to the way it was. I wasn’t Black enough to claim Black at school, but I was Black enough to be ostracized whenever I wanted to try something new. Outside of my family, I had three friends in tennis; all three of them were girls that I had been randomly paired with before they actually met me. When my sister graduated from high school, I never had a consistent doubles player again. I was too busy being known as the fourteen year old who never smiled on the court. So, naturally, I was the Mean and Angry Black Girl without even trying.
But at school, I just had to worry about getting good grades, staying athletic, and hoping people would like me for me. And it stayed that way until I graduated. So I held my tongue, and managed to get through getting mistaken for other Black students (including male students due to my athletic frame and androgynous clothing), and being denied roles in musicals and show choirs because I didn’t fit the bill, or roles being erased completely because it wouldn’t be “fair” because no one else would be able to audition, and finally made it to college. There were so many people that were like me: raised in a predominantly white environment, and didn’t know quite how to act now that you didn’t have to fit in anymore. Up until that point, no one had been willing to accept us for who we are.
But the one thing that helped cement my identity was coming back to Minnesota. After finding my identity, it was difficult seeing Minnesota the same way that I knew it as before. I was so much more aware of the little microaggressions that I was constantly faced with, the people that would follow me around the store if I wasn’t wearing something nice, and the way people would clutch their bags closer when they saw me and my siblings approaching them. People would still be shocked when we treated them with the basic amount of decency, and even more surprised when my family dressed nicely. It didn’t change the fact that no matter how much we minded ourselves in public, we were always too loud for the people who didn’t want to hear us. How is anyone expected to find their identity if they’re expected to fit in?