Anyone who was not living under the rock for the last few years would know that one of the most significant issues up to this day was racial discrimination. I had no idea how it started, but minority groups practically got tired of being bullied by others one day and decided to rally for their rights. That was especially true for African-American people, who had dealt with slavery for centuries.
The thing was, when I was growing up; I did not feel discriminated against at all. It must have something to do with my growing up in a primarily black community in Alabama. A lot of kids – including myself – happened to be a product of biracial marriages. There were also a handful of white people in the area, but they were married to African Americans, so there was never any tension whenever they were around.
However, when I was 13 years old, my father accepted a job in New York as a theater director. He was required to be in the city for 360 days a year, so my parents decided to move as a family and leave our little pocket of heaven in Alabama.
Seeing Racial Discrimination First-Hand
During my family’s relocation, I was still naive about racial discrimination. Everyone in the new apartment complex that we moved into was nothing but sweet and pleasant. Some even helped us carry our stuff into the building and told us to knock on their doors whenever we needed anything.
When I attended the local middle school, though, the first thing I saw was a bunch of teenagers ganging up on a small black kid. They were calling him “Inky” and other derogatory names that I had never heard of in my life. That made me stop in my tracks and worry that I might get the same treatment. To my surprise, no one bothered me at all.
I told my mother about what I saw, and she could not answer me for a few minutes. When she did, Mom told me carefully that it might be because I did not look like a typical African American since I was biracial. I had curly hair, but it was not coarse or thick. I did not have creamy white skin, but it was not darker than honey. In those bullies’ eyes, I might look like I just got a tan.
How It Affected My Mindset
In fear of getting bullied, I hid it from many people at school because I identified as black. It was pretty easy because my father’s job kept him from sending me or picking me up from school. Everyone only saw my mother, and she was white, so no one suspected that I was part of a minority group on that side of New York.
This little white lie of mine – ironically and literally speaking – came to an end when dad surprised me one afternoon. I had no idea that he would pick me up that day. If I did, I would have faked an illness so that no one would see him. So, when I stepped out of the gate and saw my father waving at me, I pretended not to see him and walked away with my friends.
You could imagine my friends’ shock when dad jumped in front of me and hugged me. I saw one of them was about to scream, probably thinking that there was a pedophile on the loose, but I was quick to tell them to relax since it was my father. Once they calmed down, someone half-whispered, “Did you know Sam’s dad was black? I thought she was Latina all the way.”
My father obviously heard that comment because I saw his nose scrunch up a little, but he feigned like he didn’t. When we got home, he went straight to my mother, and they talked for an hour or so. I held my breath the entire time, unsure of what punishment I would get since I realized in that instant that it was the biggest mistake I could ever make.
When my parents came into view, I saw the disappointment in their eyes. Mom and dad made me explain why I lied about being African American. I felt sorrier than ever for what I did, but the harm had been done.
Still, instead of punishing me, my parents asked me to go to therapy since it was not okay for me to denounce my culture like that. I did it, and the therapist taught me that living a double life could get me in bigger trouble in the future if I kept it up. Not to mention, doing so would make my loved ones extremely sad because it would seem like I was ashamed of who I was.
That last bit did it for me. I stopped pretending to be someone that I was not. I also told my friends the truth, and to my astonishment, they did not care about that at all. It proved that there were still genuine people in the world despite all the harshness we tend to see daily.
Who knew that embracing my identity would feel so good?