I remember one day very long ago when I was younger, maybe seven or eight, when I realized I was black. It wasn't a shocking realization as my parents had me reading about our history, and I wasn't blind to the differences in my skin tone and that of other people. But one day the sun was shining beautifully through an open window, and a breeze blew away the curtains. The sunlight hit my skin and I noticed how lovely and brown it was, how warm the undertones of it was. And for a good ten or fifteen minutes I marveled at the range of colors my skin had, from the pale palms of my hands, the dark brown of my elbows, the slight red under my cheeks...such beautiful color. And from that day forward I was proud of my skin...well until puberty, but I digress.
The first time I ever felt ashamed of being black was in high school. Up until then I was acutely aware of being very smart and typically being one of very few black students in Advanced Placement classes. In said classes whenever something about black history or black women was looked at, the room immediately turned to me for the perspective. In middle school I gave them what they wanted; I was sassy and factually funny but as time wore on I became so annoyed with always being looked to. At the time I wasn't really searching for myself, but I grew tired of people telling me who I should be.
In high school it got worse as I tended to be two classes advanced, and the black students dwindled down to three or four from seven or ten. I was quiet, and insecure and tended to stay indescript in all my classes while silently making the cut in them.
But one day in history class during black history month we were going over slavery. I'd long given up on learning anything from school on black history and instead was reading a book of Langston Hughes. Then some girl raised on her daddy's farm with freckles and horns on her F150 said that slavery was "millions of years ago" and that black people should just "get over it already."
Now there were two other black students, a boy and a girl, and they kept their eyes on the round tables and out-dated books below their noses. The rest of the class, consisting of Hispanic and white students either nodded or just looked on. I kept my eyes on the other two black kids, the boy with his sagging jeans and white tees, the girl in a top reading "Baby Girl" in glitter and extremely tight jeans and heels. They weren't going to say anything.
I silently put my book down and turned to the girl. I remember as if it were yesterday what I said: "Our people were put through physical, psychological, emotional, mental and so many other stresses at the hands of people who had kidnapped us, raped us, killed us for plants, for money. We were told we would never be good enough to have respectable jobs, we were spit on and had dogs put on us. Us in this room personally have not been directly effected, but long term, all of us are still struggling with being in a country that never intended to treated us as people but as items and animals."
She retorted that it was years ago and we were not directly effected. To which I said, verbatim mind you, that studies still showed that a white man would get a job over a black man even with identical credentials, studies still showed that black women more than any other were over sexualized, and that inter-fighting and racism between different color black people as a result of leftover slavery mentalities were still very real problems. I ended by inviting her to opt in to hundred of years of being treated as less than a person, less than an animal, as an item. I invited her to be cheated and lied to a la "forty acres and a mule!" I also invited her to kiss my black ass.
My teacher wasn't too pleased with my harsh tone or choice of language. She pulled me aside after class to let me know she should write me up...but she never did. She said that if I hadn't said anything, she certainly would have. She commended me for having my facts straight and told me that she was proud of me on a human to human level not just a teacher to student level.
And the pretty farm girl? Went around for a week playing the victim card, saying I called her a racist for no reason and hemmed and hawed. She shut up about it whenever she saw me though, until she had her friends behind her and I was alone reading. She came up to me about a week later and said she didn't appreciate me calling her a racist, and without looking up from my book I stood, and I told her a hit dog is usually the one that hollers loudest, and that I had never called her a racist - her own guilty conscience had done that and I walked away.
Being the black kid was never difficult for me. I was always aware of it, and always proud of it. Being the black kid did set me up for some unwarranted attention, but once I stood my ground, once I let the world know I was Tes, a black girl, not a black girl named Tes, it was never an issue for me again.