My Story: personal essays

One Race. Human Race.

An Atlanta teen's mission to break down racial barriers

8/29/2011

I didn’t know I was Black until fourth grade. I wasn’t raised to see things in black and white. Rather, I see all the glorious hues in between. I’ve always had friends from all colors of the rainbow. How could I tell my friends that I didn’t want to be called Black anymore, but a human being? It seemed impossible that all of my family’s history — all of their ancestral struggle — could be summarized by one word.

I was even more shocked when I came across another label: Other. I knew, then, that it was less about understanding mybackground, and more about convenience for others to neatly categorize me by the way I look. Even if my best friend is half-Indonesian and half-White, it is more convenient to classify her as other. How could I tell that friend that she was too unique to have a label?

My belief in one race motivated me to launch a personal campaign to ban racial labels: “BRL.” I was in eighth grade and feeling liberated, as I wore Post-Its on my shirt every day, with a new campaign slogan. One day, I wore a Post-It that read: “I’m not Black, but I’m proud,” and a classmate approached me. “If you’re not Black, than what are you?” I told her I was the same thing she was — a human being. Though I had support from friends and family, some people were unsure of the complications that would follow my campaign. When filling out applications and school surveys, which box did I check? Which ethnicity did I associate myself with?  I know where my family is from originally, but some kids don’t know their family history beyond the States. Now, I embrace the complexity in my diversity. Race/Ethnicity? I believe in the Human race.

Through my BRL campaign, I felt confident to proclaim my belief in my middle school hallways. However, when I entered high school, I lost sight of the BRL message. Suddenly, it became more important to make friends just to avoid the dreaded awkward stares in the hallway. How could I make room for a barrier-breaking campaign in hallways that were alien to me? Teachers had unknown political interests, and new friends expressed clashing personal views. When class discussions turned toward the controversial topic of race in America, I would counter with the newfangled idea that race does not exist. What ensued – the abrupt turning of the heads and confused glances – told me all I needed to know about the issue: denying the existence of race was too radical for the casual chatter of the classroom.

Once more I discovered further categorization of people within certain racial labels. It suddenly appeared that, to be Black, one had to speak in broken sentences, sag his/her pants and listen exclusively to rap music. If you were Black and didn’t follow any of these rules, then you’re still labeled, only as White.

Even though many teens don’t subscribe to stereotyping, it still seems to linger as the unspoken rule. These rigid social norms only serve to further divide an already-divisive society. If stereotypes are to disappear, these racial markers have to be the first to go.  It begins and ends with labels. 

Paige, 17, attends North Atlanta High and was a participant at VOX Media Cafe this summer.

 

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  1. ashley posted on 11/16/2011 07:48 PM
    this is so amazing. i totally agree!
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