Growing up, middle school classmates called me an Oreo. You know — Black on the outside, white on the inside. I used correct grammar, lived in the suburbs, and listened to Britney Spears and *NSYNC while many of my classmates lived within the city limits of Baltimore and could recite every Tupac and Biggie lyric by heart. Needless to say, I did not fit in.
In high school, I prided myself on being one of only two Black girls in my class and “not being like other Black people.” You see, at the time I was obsessed with every teen magazine under the sun and prayed to God to make me white so I’d be beautiful. Self-hate is a bitch, y’all.
And college wasn’t much better. My dad signed me up for a pre-orientation session for students of color and I could not be bothered. If I attended Dear White People’s fictional Winchester University during my college years, I would most likely have been listed as “not” in Reggie’s Tinder-esque “Woke or Not Woke” app, or as it was also called, Wokémon Go!
You see, there’s a litmus test of Blackness that has seemingly existed since the beginning of time and I have definitely been subjected to it.
As a young adult, my proverbial “Black card” was revoked numerous times for “talking White” and listening to pop music. Though I’m loud and proud to be a Black woman now, that wasn’t always the case. Truth be told, I was often embarrassed to be Black and would try my darndest to distance myself from my “inner-city” classmates, lest people think I was “ghetto.”
In many ways, I can relate to Colandrea (or Coco, as she’s known on campus) and her experience with colorism. In grade school, I was often compared to my light-skinned best friend with the “good hair.” I recall catching a glance of a paper the boys in my fifth grade class passed around with each girl’s name, a ranking of sorts. Next to my friend’s name there was “fine” written three times. Next to my name? “Ugly,” twice. Is it a coincidence that I’m about three shades darker and my natural hair texture is thick and coarse? I think not.
Like Coco, most of my college friends were white, and I’ve definitely done my fair share of assimilating to white culture, which would lead many to believe that I’m not woke. And, for a long time, I wasn’t. I definitely lacked the Black pride that my colleagues in the Black Student Union often felt, but that all changed when I accepted an editor position at an iconic Black magazine.
Suddenly, I was face-to-face with my history and my ancestry. I began to recognize microaggressions and became more aware of full-blown racism. I was starting to become woke, but as one of the few women in the office who wore a relaxer instead of my natural hair, I still felt like I wasn’t “Black enough.”
Admittedly, I used to shy away from posting about #BlackLivesMatter on social media for fear of being labeled an “angry Black woman,” but honestly, I had every reason to be angry. Eventually, I stopped caring what other people would think and began to wholeheartedly embrace my race and identity.
By my very existence, I am Black and, frankly, I don’t need to prove my Blackness to anyone. Growing up in the suburbs, straightening my hair, and knowing all of the choreography to “Oops, I Did it Again” doesn’t make me any less Black than anyone else.
Yes, you can be woke and wear weaves. There’s no one right way to be Black. And all of our experiences are valid.