For my English Composition class, I had to write a reflective essay. I must say, I had fun looking back in my life, deciding on what I should reflect about. Below is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it.
I was pretty fortunate to evade racial encounters throughout my life- either for reasons of being purely naïve or just pure godsend. I lived in a world where people were from different countries, had different backgrounds, and they had different color skin. There was no rhyme or reason for it. My father being black, from the south, and a descendent from slaves and my mother, a descendent of Czechoslovakian immigrants, coming from Germany to America knowing barely a lick of English- it still hadn’t occurred to me their feelings of anguish describing to one another their cultural confrontation with a stranger. I would overhear how angry, disappointed, and offended they were- but over what? I didn’t understand. I didn’t comprehend why someone would have to explain or answer to anyone the color of their skin or the country of their birth. Or why they would even feel compelled to answer to such ignorance. It was because of their protection that I lived blissfully without having a brush with racism, bigotry, or discrimination for so long. But their protection couldn’t last forever.
The sharp sound of the lunch bell interrupted the teacher. I quietly put my things away and followed the herd of students down to the “café.” It was a middle school without hallways- the classrooms were grouped together by 4 or 5 trailers scattered on the middle school campus. It was a time of day that every new student dreads. Being a newbie in a classroom isn’t so much as difficult as being a newbie in a crowded lunchroom. Standing in line like every other student, trying not to draw attention to myself, I looked above at the menu deciding what I should have on my first day. Suddenly, I felt a poke at my shoulder; I turned to face a chubby, short stature black boy; Xavier. As I turned to him, I noticed not only his eyes on mine, but so are a few other dozen eyes. I smile as I waited for his response. “Why do you act white?”
Out of all the things that I expected or even didn’t expect him to say, that was surely a surprise. Why do I act white? How am I acting white? If I am acting white, how would I know that I am? Is white a new California slang term I haven’t heard before? Not sure how to counter and considering his tone of voice and the very meaning of his question, I took this acting white business as an insult; perhaps a characteristic a student here shouldn’t posses. With the shrug of my shoulders and shake of my head I replied, “I don’t act white,” with a bit of question and hesitation in my voice. Not only did I not fully understand his question, I didn’t quite understand my answer either. As quickly as he asked, the conversation, for now at least, was over. The line started to move a bit quicker, I gathered my items, paid the lunch lady, and sat down as I tried even more so to blend in.
Those next couple of weeks I kept a safe distance between Xavier and myself. I avoided conversation with him like the plague. Unfortunately, my dodging skills needed much improvement. The next run in I had with Xavier was during our health class. He, along with his friend DJ approached my desk. The next words that escaped their mouths were ones that shadowed me for quite some time. Again, asking the very same question that perplexed me the first time, he asked again why I acted white. This time around, I considered my last retort, and I asked what he meant by that. Perhaps I read too much into it when he first asked me in the lunchroom. He went on to say that I talked white, I walked white, and I’m not as dark as he and his family is. Still, not completely grasping this concept or even why it mattered to him, I simply told him that I’m not fully black. I’m black and German. He responded, “Oh, so you’re an Oreo.” Afraid to even ask what the term Oreo meant, I did so anyway, intrigued at what his answer would be.
I learned something new that day. I actually learned quite a few new things on that day; an Oreo is someone who is black on the outside and white on the inside; thus, someone that is acting white. As his friend DJ so kindly pointed out as well, I also fit the term Albino. Of course I wasn’t a true albino in terms of medicine, but I fit Albino in this slang and demeaning sort of way because I wasn’t as dark as the other little black boys and girls. I was also a Mulatto- someone who is mixed of both black and white ancestry. I was only called Oreo to my face; Albino and Mulatto were terms that both DJ and Xavier wanted me to know- for the sake of my own knowledge and experience, I suppose.
Some years had passed since my Oreo incident. Though at the time I hadn’t realized how much it affected me, it did have an impact on my perception and my protective little bubble my parents tried so heartedly to keep intact. A few years following my minor, yet significant brush with animosity, was my freshman term of high school. We had just moved from California to Colorado the summer before my first year at Widefield High School. Completely different from Ft. Irwin, Widefield was a civilian (non-military) school and was completely diverse in cultures and background. My expectation of attending a diverse school was simply that I wouldn’t be asked why I acted white. I assumed they would already know being surrounded by so many different cultures, acting white, wasn’t acting white or acting like anything. Just being.
A friend and I had decided to go to the mall to do a little shopping; relieve some much adolescent stress. Cindy, like myself, is also of mixed heritage. She’s black and Korean. The mall was growing scarce being that it was late in the evening on a school night. On the way out, we stopped in a store so that Cindy could pick up a few last minute items. There were two other girls just a long stride behind us. They were white. The clerk, also white, was at her station as she smiled and said hello to the girls behind us, but not to Cindy and I. I thought nothing of it at the time. As Cindy, myself, and the two other girls looked around the store, the clerk walked off to arrange some items next to the cash register. The girls walked up to the register, items in hand. The clerk took no time to come back to her station to do business with the two. My watch read 8:17. Not many moments later, Cindy and I were ready to pay for our things and be on our way. Though, this time the clerk was not as quick to come back to her station. In plain sight, the clerk, Cindy and I were in full view of one another. No one else was in the store. Of course, I am not taking much thought into this. Still after my Oreo incident, my naïve world has yet to crumble. What seemed like forever, we stood there in silence, patiently waiting for this clerk to help us. My watch read 8:21. Four minutes had passed since we’ve been waiting for the clerk. Being the passive-aggressive person I am, I probably would have waited ten or even fifteen minutes for the clerk. But Cindy’s not so much. A loud clearing of her throat, Cindy hoped to catch the attention of the clerk without exchanging words. To no avail, Cindy then threw her items on the counter and hollered, “Ex-cu-se me. We’re ready to pay for our items now…” Amazed at not only Cindy’s bellow, but at realizing what just happened by putting two and two together. Did this clerk really have a problem with us from our first steps into the store?
I lived for many years, more than most, without facing a disappointing situation of biasness. In hindsight I can see that perhaps I was too blind to see the mistreatment I have endured. I see now my mother and father’s feelings of anguish- I have experienced it first hand. I am aware of the ignorance in the world as well as the intolerance that many still hold. I may not see it everyday, but I am aware. I am aware, and I’ll continue to not let it taint me. I choose to take my past, present, and future experiences that relate with such unfairness as opportunities- opportunities to be the bigger person, to educate, and to learn from them.