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My HBCU Experience: Not being black enough

By Kaiyah Clarke | Staff Writer
On February 15, 2018

 

 

I am usually reciting a Shakespearean monologue “To be or not to be…” which is rare for an African American person raised in the urban South to be accustomed to- or so I have been told.

But now, I use this same phrase to ask to be or not to be…a part of what black culture has become.

I hail from Orlando-home of Walt Disney World.

Although I grew up in the more urban parts of Orlando, I was fortunate enough to attend truly diverse schools that weren’t in my zone but, had a good proportion of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and so on.

I was taught of discrimination and racism but have never experienced it myself, having had the best of both worlds as far as being raised in an urban setting but attending accommodating suburban schools and functions.

My family also raised me to love whoever I want and be whoever I want.

So, when I questioned throughout my school years about my ancestry, I easily tell of all the cultures that make me who I am without offense because it would be a part of class assignments to share who you are or something of that nature.

With that being said, no individual has ever asked me what I am and why I am not a certain type of way and why I am so “light-skinned”.

It isn’t until I get to college, a historically black college/ university at that, ironically, that I am questioned about what makes me who I am, outside of academia. In fall 2017, a black, female and darker complexioned FAMU student phrased the question with a smirk on her face “You are high yella! What are you mixed with?”

No one has ever asked me that question with that tone, type of phrasing and, with the demeanor she was exhibiting in her facial expression, so I was already a little suspicious about her intentions.

 I answer that that there is a blend of different cultures in my ancestry. Having taken an ancestry test the summer before I began my freshman year, I say I am 60 percent West African, 20 percent Cuban, 10 percent Native American and 10 percent Syrian.

Mind you this is done in front of other HBCU students who are there for a meeting and who are all darker than me as well.

 I then say “essentially, I still have to check the box on the form that says black/ African American just like you do.”

This leads them to laugh, which also affected me in a way.

From then on, she continues to berate me with discriminatory remarks about my light complexion, the way I dress, the way I talk -which by the way, is like a white person apparently (whatever that sounds like).

In another incident shortly after, I am taking groceries out of a car and an older white man is helping me do this.

Then that same girl who has been, basically bullying me, happens to walk by during this time and she asks, “Is that your dad?”

Now she knows this person isn’t my dad. I have already shown her a picture of my father (who isn’t white) and told her both parts of my family to consider themselves to be black.

This remark hits home and in that moment, I realize that I had been discriminated against by someone of my own race.

I have an epiphany thereafter and start weighing what makes me different from most of the black people I have encountered at the HBCU.

 I don’t listen to rappers like Kodak, I don’t know many of the slang terms for parties and such, I don’t know how to wear certain types of weave and most importantly, I don’t discriminate who I date.

From then on, I remain resolute in my character and claim that I am truly diverse in a place that is to be considered more diverse than a PWI (predominantly white institution).

Of course, this girl that has been biased towards me does not speak for all African Americans, but she is certainly not the only who has treated me this way because of my skin color while attending this HBCU.

However, this story of mine goes to show that even in a place where you are told that you should expect comfort in the form of acceptance, you must remain true to yourself because you are the only one who sustains your own well-being that no other person can offer- no matter if you are surrounded by black, white, red, yellow, green or blue.

I also believe the difference between attending the schools in my past and this college experience is that I was not around people who were necessarily like me at all but I was around people who accepted anyone-diversity in its purest form that just so happens to be hard to find.

This is what I have learned from my HBCU experience and the conclusion that I have come to is most likely what isn’t expected of me while being black in America.

 

 

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