I was called an oreo when I was growing up. In the African American community this was not a term of endearment. It didn’t refer to how sweet I was. Rather it was social nomenclature that described my perceived character. In layman’s terms this word described me as one who, though I was black on the outside, was really white on the inside. As you might imagine this was not just about color. This term and those who used it were referring to my physical appearance and my norms, behaviors and mannerisms. For some reason I was viewed as an outsider within my own community and to this day, I am teased by family and friends alike in regards to my seemingly “non-black” behavior. Truth be told, this had a devastating effect on my identity…
This way of thinking brought so many other things to mind. For one, I wondered what it meant to be black and how someone like me who comes from a black family and was raised in black neighborhoods and went to predominately black schools (even graduating from a Historically Black College & University) was seen as not “black enough”. Black history and knowing my roots was very important in my home. My mother was an educator who took seriously her role in passing down traditions, knowledge, and untold stories of our culture.
I often thought that maybe peoples’ interpretations of me were connected to my faith tradition. I was raised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is a predominately white denomination; however the churches of my childhood were black Lutheran churches. Many friends in Texas asked if Lutherans were Christians (to this day the irony of this question makes me chuckle) and when I invited them to church they were taken aback by our worship style when compared to their Baptist/Nondenominational/traditional black denominational way of worship. But once again, even in my church community, black traditions and culture were important and uplifted.
Education was very important to my parents and I was a voracious reader. We traveled extensively during my childhood, taking a family trip every year. My parents made a point to include historic sites and cultural information on every trip. I was well spoken and well rounded, being involved in everything from academic enrichment opportunities in the summer to the requisite tap/ballet/dance trifecta. I finished high school with honors, graduating number eleven in my class of 454, was a Varsity Cheerleader, National Honor Society member, and belonged to host of other clubs and organizations.
Going to an HBCU was important to me. I wanted to be a part of an institution of higher learning that infused African American history, culture and traditions into the DNA of their curriculum. When I arrived at Spelman College in the fall of 1999, I finally felt like I found a place where I belonged. I was surrounded by intelligent, articulate, and vivacious BLACK women. But I soon realized that the world outside of our gates still viewed us as the other.
This “otherness” has been with me as long as I can remember. In my darkest hours, I’ve begun to realize the damage that was caused by those who ridiculed me for who I was, making me question my identity, my worth and my purpose. I’m now at a point in life where I fully embrace the skin I’m in. I fully embrace who I am as one who has been crafted in God’s very own image, gifted for a purpose.
My hope is people judge less and love more.
My hope is that we can broaden our perspectives on what a particular race/ethnicity/culture is like.
My hope is that we realize how damaging it is to ostracize and criticize anyone because of their individuality.
My hope is that we all can grow in love, grace and acceptance of our selves in order to fully love and accept each other.