For the majority of my life, people have told me how I should act and speak. Growing up in a somewhat strict Jamaican household, speaking the “Queen’s English” and being respectful were extremely important. Maybe it was my parent’s disgust with stereotypical African American behavior, or perhaps it was going to a boujee (bourgeoisie) elementary school that heavily impacted my personality and how I would act in order to be as posh as possible.
I had no idea how different my family acted from the other Black families in our community until people kept asking me and my family if we were military.
In middle school it became more prevalent as the Black kids would just stare at me every time I spoke with my friends as if I was a science experiment. What made things worse was the fact that teachers took notice of my difference and treated me better than my other Black peers.
My “friends” would randomly say things like, “I’m so glad you don’t act like them,” and my personal favorite “Chaela, you are such an ‘oreo.’”
With my interests in writing, marching band and anime and manga, my blackness was always questioned. My hobbies were labeled as “white” by both white and Black students. People became bolder and more ignorant, confused to why I didn’t talk in AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), wear urban clothes and care less about school. The stereotypes were heavily pushed and reinforced by my peers.
I was praised and ridiculed by my white peers for “acting white” — a coded reminder that no matter what I was still a “Negro.”
Of course, I was never afraid to put my problematic white peers in their place. However, I also felt isolated from the Black community for not being “Black enough.” To its standards, I acted like a sellout more than anything.
A couple of people have asked me why I never went to an HBCU (historically Black college/university) or joined Shippensburg University’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA). To be honest it is because I faced a lot of criticism by my own people on my mannerisms and interests, so I decided to spare myself from the chance of more isolation and insults by staying away from such institutions and groups.
As I continue to grow, I am not afraid to be unapologetically myself. I am Black, and that does not mean I have to act stereotypically. Just because I speak properly and dress nicely does not mean I am trying to assimilate or disregard my culture, ancestry and family. I am more than my skin color.