Sometimes I can’t help but be ashamed of who I am. Being a half-and-half mix of Caribbean-American and German yet looking mostly like the latter, leads to guilt. I can, in some manners, reap all the ‘benefits’ that come with having a dark-skinned mother yet none of the downsides.
I’ve been in programs exclusive to African-Americans, whether it be science fairs or internships. I’ve applied for African-American grants and scholarships and have even been encouraged to do so. But sitting on a lecture of culture, or being trained to compete, or interviewing for grant money, it’s impossible not to notice the differences. I’m always the lightest one there. People always can’t help but look and whisper to each other. Coming up to me in kind, condescending tones to ask if I’m in the right place. Times like that I want to bury myself. But I can never be denied the opportunities. So there I am, with all the positives of it and being filled with guilt from it.
I’ve never been followed around in stores really, unless I was with my mother. I’ve been asked if my mother was my babysitter, nanny and family friend. People have tried to pull me aside and ask if that was my mother when I was young. As if she stole me away from my perfect suburban white family and I needed to be returned.
I can remember the innocence of it all. It was all so normalized to me, I was desensitized to noticing things like differences in skin color, hair color, eyes, etc. Like most things, I received a rude awakening. Kids in my class, growing up in a nearly all-white neighborhood, would question immediately why my mother and I didn’t have similar skin tones. I had just no clue what to tell them. And again, like most kids, they teased. Poked and prodded saying that I didn’t look like my mother so I must’ve been adopted. It stung. Lyle avoided similar simply because unlike myself, the social butterfly I tend to be, he kept to himself. I often times ended up joining him in the deserted corner of the playground to avoid others.
When I came home, my mother would sooth me, hugging and humming. Then she would turn a complete 180 and call up my school, ripping into them for not preventing this. Bullying-prevention wasn’t a big thing at the time in my area, so there wasn’t really protocol or anything like that.
It’s rather depressing to realize how something I was once semi-proud of was now my bane, just another trait I was ashamed of along with my chubby cheeks and asthmatic tendencies.
To say that there’s an immediate happy ending, or dramatic realization years later to show that there was nothing to be worried about would be a lie. It was a gradual process. Myself and others, maturing and out-growing the teases. Having family there to comfort me. Learning to love myself for who I am. Finding friends who love me for me too. It’s not like flicking a light switch or tearing off a bandage. It’s the lighting of a candle flame, waiting for it to grow and find an optimal size to provide the light you need. It’s constant care of a wound, cleaning it even though it stings and changing the dressings even when you probably don’t have to just in case. It’s not easy. But it’s not impossible either.