A Dear Black Girl Article Inspired by We’re Going To Need More Wine
by Gabrielle Union
Dear Black Girl,
I can’t put my finger on it for sure but at some point in my adulthood; I found myself becoming desperate to prove my blackness. To me it was never a question, I am obviously black. You may be able to assess that I am mixed if you look closely but the reality is I look black. Because I am. I just also happen to be proud of my native American roots as well but from the naked eye, unless you’re used to looking deeply; I look black.
When I was growing up it was never something I thought I needed to state or say because honestly, I was one of five black kids at my school. It was pretty obvious. When I went home to play with my cousins; we were all black so no real need for clarification there. It felt like the only time I needed to state it was on a PSAT, SAT or when we talked about slavery. That’s the one time everyone feels like they can acknowledge your blackness. It’s a class-wide moment of “look at the black kid”.
While reading Gabrielle Union’s book, We’re Going To Need More Wine, I shuddered and chuckled at my young self. She relates back to the moment where a similar scenario happened to her. It was time to read a book that said the N word. Rather than black it out like most schools commonly does now; Union’s school kept it in.
This was one of those defining moments for a black kid at a PWI. You really get to judge the comfort level of kids while they say this racial slur. Union recalled some kids blushing and skipping over it, others looked back at her in apology while breathing the words but then there were those kids. The kids that would stare you straight in the eye and smile as they say it “nigger”. That was their big moment. They were sitting there patiently and praying that their paragraph to read out loud would have that word in it.
I know those kids. I remember them fondly. My favorite memory is my junior year of High School. We finally had gotten to The Civil War and for obvious reasons, people started looking at me a lot. Any mention of slaves or negros and I was only one side eye stare away. I guess I was black enough for that.
There was this one kid, let’s call him Ted. Let’s be real here I honestly do not believe anyone was surprised by Ted being racist. He and his dumb friend, I’ll call him Nick, used to sit in the front row of their section. See my school got inventive. The teacher wanted the class to feel involved and hands on. He accomplished this by dividing the room into two halves. Rather than looking at the board; we would turn our desk to face each other and leave the middle aisle open for the teacher to walk and lecture. It was exactly what I did not need while my classmates were being educated on blackness by white people.
Of course, it came time to read our textbooks and oh goodie, we had gotten to the part about how slaves got punished. Ted had already made a few racist jokes and jabs but of course, no one said anything. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t either. Then it’s Nick’s turn to read and his section was about a lynching. I’ll never forget it. Burned into my memory. He reads the passage describing what lynching is and the emotional reaction it causes and he looks straight at me. Then he quickly looks at Ted.
“We should tie Kristin up in a tree,” Ted says and finishes with a laugh “just for a visual.”
Nick looks at him, scoffs and says “Good one” and they high five
This is the part where the Teacher gets insanely mad and sends them to the principles office. This is the part where he makes them apologize to me, to the class and calls their parents. Except, this isn’t that part. This is the part where he says
“Oh my gosh, that’s not nice. Stop talking”
That’s it. That’s all he said.
I felt the rage burn inside of my chest and my pulse sing as I held back the tears. All I wanted to do is scream “that’s all?”
“Is that seriously all these racist mother f****** get?” but I didn’t. I didn’t want to make a scene. So I sat there and I minded my business.
See being the black girl at a white school means you learn different things than say a black girl at a black school. Your day to day survival guide is different.
You choose a role. You assimilate. You become the class clown or the athlete or the extra-curricular girl. I became everything. I was head cheerleader, volleyball captain, ran fundraising initiatives, alumni groups and everything else. I was an overachiever to a T.
That also meant that I was quiet. It meant that I didn’t speak up the way I should have. It meant when I got yelled at and no one else did; I either assumed that I deserved it or it wasn’t worth looking like the angry black girl. When people said racist things around me I’d either say; “be careful who you say that to” like a stale threat sitting at the edge of my tongue or just nothing. It didn’t feel like my role. My role was to assimilate.
Honestly, it felt like no one at my school cared. I was so scared of being labeled as hostile or aggressive that I didn’t confide in anyone there except the one other non-white kid in the school, Patrick (I’m using his real name cause he’s a boss).
I minded my business so hard after the threat of lynching that my only next step was to ask my teacher after class if something else would happen to them. He said that of course, “they didn’t actually mean anything by it. They are just stupid and think that they are funny.” Every day after that, I watched my back intently every day after that.
I should’ve told my parents but one thing about my mom – you don’t play with her kids. I was honestly scared that she’d turn the whole place upside down and I would be labeled the angry black girl again. See, I didn’t get it yet. I didn’t understand that standing up for yourself should never yield the label of “angry”.
I had assimilated into my role so hard that I forgot at the end of the day; I had to own my blackness because no one else was going to do it for me. I should’ve spoken up but I didn’t because I didn’t want to draw “negative” attention to myself. I didn’t say anything cause I was a wuss. End of day – that’s all that was. I was a wuss who didn’t want to be honest with herself.
So no, I didn’t need to state that I was black enough. I had never forgotten that I was black in school. Everyone knew and there was never more than six of us in the whole school at one time. I stood out and the difference was obvious.
However, I wish I did state it. I wish I had said something every. single. time.
[Sidenote: My choice to assimilate was an idea I put into my mind. My parents would have pulled me out of that school with the quickness if I had been smart enough to say something. My parents are the best people]