I was called Ni**a for the first time, after moving back to the south as a senior. On the school bus headed home, a white guy approached me, looked me right in the eye, and without hesitation called me out my name. It caused a sharp pain in my gut.
I was shocked, the school didn't take the incident seriously and the other black students didn’t understand why I was making such a big deal out of the situation. Probably because racial slurs are often normalized in communities lacking diversity. It was here, however, that I realized my limitations as a black woman and the power of stereotypes. We are often portrayed and expected to carry ourselves a certain way. Forced to acclaim hard work others don’t want to do, for fear of being called the “angry black women.”
The thing about black people is that our culture is so counter-culture. For example, society says "more" but Black people say, "mo'." Growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods have shaped me into the person I am today. Some experiences positive, some negative, but all equally important. I was usually too ethnic for the White kids, too black for the Spanish and too bougie for Black people. Bougie, used interchangeably with "Oreo" "acting white" "sheltered" or "privileged". Then there's the offensive "You're not fully black, are you?" inquiry. Despite Migos' lyrics praising the term "Boujee," being the definition is not culturally cool.
Growing up, my white friends knew and experienced things out of my understanding. I didn't go tanning, they didn't know the horrors of a hot comb, I slept in a bonnet, their family hadn't experienced systematic oppression--I couldn't relate to the culture. But in the black community, my peers couldn’t relate to my suburban experience. We had similar taste in music, television, and fashion. But our outlook on careers and what’s expected of us were offbeat. They grew up in one environment which shaped their ideas. They had the same friends and were able to develop long-term relationships. We had the same school systems, then we didn't. My family moved around. My black friend's idea of success was stacks of cash and popularity, because that’s what is portrayed in the media. They didn't witness the generational wealth I saw from families filled with doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, tech and government officials. For them, a new check means you buy a new pair of sneakers. Money was their aspiration. For my white peers, money was perceived not as their accomplishment, but the middle ground in getting whatever or wherever is wanted.
I’ve lived in various cities mixed with different social groups. From private school in Birmingham to lower-income high schools in Dallas, to moving to Arizona and adjusting to a new culture. It's unfair, but black people have to work twice as hard to get half as much. We work hard to blend in with America and accept societal challenges for what they are. I'm grateful for my upbringing. Being able to travel and experience other cultures has opened my mind and allowed me a unique perspective. I know I can do anything. I’m also fully aware that I have to work harder than my counterparts.
Since traveling a great deal, my idea of home is within myself more than a group of people or a common location. Growing up black in a white neighborhood taught me how to overcome feelings of inadequacy in so many settings between school and the workplace. I no longer feel pressured to straighten my hair to blend in. Adjust the pitch and enunciation in my voice when I’m answering the phone at work versus talking to a friend. Plus, being young, black, and articulate isn't eternally alienating. I've found my seat at the table with modern day culture makers...you know, musicians and anime lovers.
Written by: Intern Aliyah Burroughs