Insecurities and Expectations: Growing Up 'White' as a Black Girl

Insecurities and Expectations: Growing Up 'White' as a Black Girl

The first time I became aware of my blackness was in primary school, when I was six or seven. I came home, took myself upstairs to the bathroom and covered my face in layers of baby powder in an attempt to look like all the other girls in my class. I had never really struggled making friends, I was a smart child, but somehow even during this period of innocence, I began to feel like an impostor and from this, my initial insecurities began to fester. I wanted to be fair-skinned like everybody else I was surrounded by. I wanted to fit in. I’ve never properly confronted these feelings and thoughts from my childhood, despite a re-emergence of those insecurities whilst growing into adulthood. Generally, I’m only comfortable with confrontation when it suits me. Remembering the look of disappointment on my mum’s face when she found me in the bathroom makes this difficult to write, however I feel it’s necessary if there’s a chance my words can help anyone going through the same thing.

Whilst growing up as part of an ethnic minority in an environment surrounded by people that, excluding your family, don’t look the way you do, it’s easy to make yourself the problem; to question why you’re different and perceive this as a negative when it couldn’t be more of the opposite. They didn’t share my culture, so instead of embracing and holding my heritage to a high regard, I began to neglect it. Looking back I was naïve and unaware at this stage of my life that this put me in a cultural crossfire.

I want to address the phrase ‘acting white’. This has been thrown at me more often than I’d like to admit, often used in jest and occasionally maliciously. To a degree, I understand why. When met with a collective of people who have grown up in the same community, for instance, in their minds I may pronounce my words differently, or have different interests to what they’d imagine. But this isn’t ‘acting white’. I’m not acting; I know no different, better or worse. It seems that many of us have been deceived into thinking that white skin, particularly, has ownership over shared collective experiences. Experiences that are yours. Policing who ought to have experienced what, based solely on skin colour is not conducive to the growth of character nor community. To those who have met me, unimpressed that I’d failed to meet your expectations and so have attempted to invalidate my experience- no matter how much you feel I ‘act white’, I am still a black woman.

I’ve noticed that when this term is used, in most cases it’s in relation to speech – specifically the use of clear, well-spoken Queen’s English. It baffles me that this is used to stereotype and characterise somebody, when all it implies is that a person is well-educated. Are other ethnicities incapable of being well-educated? No. Why do we hold this to a standard of whiteness? Why are we encouraging ‘white’ culture to be normative? I say this without disregarding the systematic hurdles ethnic minorities face, in which our efforts are disproportionately rewarded in comparison to our white counterparts. It should be on the shoulders of society to encourage access to better education for everyone, instead of frowning on and questioning why someone is better educated than you expect based on ethnicity.

This kind of racial discourse is subconsciously self-depreciating and extremely alienating. How exactly is somebody expected to react to such a comment? In the past I’ve felt helpless, trying to prove myself to others in a search for acceptance. I’m over it. However, it is a huge shame when you’ve spent the majority of your childhood attempting to fit in with people who do not and won’t ever have the same experience as you do, only to go out into the world and feel like an outsider amongst people who come from the same place, and the same struggle. It’s as if I’m destined to be the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit.

Stereotypes exist and will continue to exist, that makes them neither valid nor acceptable. As individuals we should want to challenge others when we witness ignorance and others being ostracised. Keep in mind that whilst some of our experiences as a collective may be similar, the battles we have faced are different, and there is no excuse to remain ignorant about this. You are unique and that should be cherished. Embrace every side to you.


Written by Deborah Banjo


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