Concluding our final 2016 Children 4 Humanity youth clinic, I asked the last group of children if they had any final questions or thoughts. “I have one, Malik,” declared a young man by the name of Rodney. He continued: “Aye slim, why you always got to talk like a white person.” As the campers began laughing nonstop, it was hard to tell who looked more uncomfortable at the time: my head coach or my teammate, who began to adjust his jersey and pretended like the comment never happened. I was upset at the level of disrespect and at the same time agitated that my feelings had been affected by a kid who was still in middle school.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time me being “black” was questioned. Growing up in a community that was predominantly white with only a handful of blacks, I was criticized constantly by those same blacks for not being “ghetto” or “hood” enough. Often labeled as an “uncle tom”, an “oreo” or a “triscuit”, a burnt cracker. I felt this was ridiculous because these people lived in the same neighborhood as I did. As a child of parents who grew up in poverty and pride themselves on overcoming the odds labeled to black people I was required to speak “standard” English anywhere I went. Somehow, my grammar, along with my fashion choices, meant that I was not worthy of my black card. I found out at a young age that being “black” went deeper than your skin color.
Despite not being “black” enough from the perspective of my black peers, my skin color was a constant reminder when I was around my white peers. Whenever a dilemma about race came to light, I was the so-called “expert” on the black issues. As a result of this, I did not look forward to events that were looked at as race related or well-known black holidays. These occasions inevitably led to a series of questions about the “African-American Experience.”I felt constantly out of place and like I couldn’t fit into either environment, because I was too white for my black peers and too black for my white peers.
My middle and high school experiences were an emotional roller coaster of self-invention. Every time I tried to alter who I was, I found myself just where I had started, which made me even more bewildered and angry. I pleaded with my parents to buy me new clothes, so I could be more “black”. I even watched various videos to try to loosen my grammar and learn slang words to sound less proper. It’s safe to say I was willing to go to any lengths to acquire a sense of belonging to a group. With failure after failure, I became isolated from friends and some family members.
It took all the way until I got to college until I encountered people who had undergone experiences similar to mine. For the first time, I saw the foolishness in attempting to conform to the typical stereotypes of black people. I realized a cookie cutter identity was just not for me. I felt free, no longer feeling as if I had to adjust or adapt to something that wasn’t me. In this process of self-discovery, I obtained a renewed love for myself and felt comfortable in my own skin.
My experiences inspired me to volunteer for the Children 4 Humanity youth clinics and at local schools as well. I wanted to implement my own journey of self-discovery to assist those kids who needed help in finding self-acceptance. When Rodney brought up the question that day, I calmly reminded everyone in attendance that the question was inappropriate in any circumstance. I relaxed again and then continued: “Never allow any person to tell you just because your skin is a certain color you have to act and behave in a certain way. Never. “I sincerely hope that the kids who were in attendance that day heed that advice. I did and have never regretted it.