Black while at Tech

Photo courtesy of Journey Sherman

Because I grew up in a predominantly white city and am now attending a predominantly white institution (PWI), maintaining my Blackness has always been an uphill battle. This piece is dedicated to the Black girls that are stuck in between who they are and who they want to be. Who you are now is exactly who you’re supposed to be.

It wasn’t until I graduated high school and left the suburban bubble of John’s Creek that I truly embraced my Blackness. As a teenager, I never felt ashamed of my skin color, but at the same time, I could never grasp why I should celebrate it. Even my white friends would make callous comments about how I didn’t “act” or “sound” Black. I’d never admitted it to them, but these comments stung and built up like plaque.

To make matters even worse some would say it as if it were a compliment. As if being Black was criminal. As if my own skin was my enemy and that being Black was something I had overcome. My advice to anyone that has ever gotten these comments is to never let anyone make you feel like a guest in your own body. Don’t shrink yourself or become a chameleon for the comfort of white people. Looking back I should have celebrated my Blackness even in the face of others demonizing it.

I wish I had realized sooner that there is no one size fits all approach to embracing your Blackness. The Black experience is not monolithic. There is no such thing as “sounding white.” It is an insult to ask if someone is mixed because you think they’re “too pretty to be just Black.” These are all forms of internalized racism that white people tend to perceive as compliments when in reality they are a means to make us feel inferior. Blackness should not be measured by its degree or proximity to stereotypical ‘white characteristics.’

It is saying that we must meet some standard of whiteness in order to be seen as attractive or intelligent. This is simply not the case. When you hear these comments do not dismiss them because even if you can, that may not be the case for the next Black person they say it to. No matter how insignificant these comments may seem in the moment, they are subconsciously detrimental to a Black adolescent’s psyche. Although these instances have helped me grow to celebrate my Blackness, it took time to come to terms with the fact that there is no mold I have to fit.

Even though Tech is located in Atlanta, a Black mecca, I have still found myself having the same encounters with my peers. If you find yourself in a conversation like this on campus or hear someone else make a racist backhanded remark, speak up for yourself and remember there is no white way to be Black.