When I was 14, I was told that my name sound "too black."
It didn't match my personality.
I acted "too white," "not ghetto enough,"
As if me being black didn't quite fit into their scripted reality.
I was given the role of the black girl.
Except in their world, the playwright wasn't God, it was them
and that my identity was found in the color of my skin--
and they decided that they were writing the scripts here.
And I wasn't playing their part right.
When I was 16, I heard it again. I told a man my name
after we had been talking for a bit, and he looked back at me in surprise,
as if he had just heard the most incredulous news of a lifetime and
he spoke with a slight tone of surprise and ignorance.
My name sounded "a little too nigger."
It didn't match the person I am.
For them, I was too white for a black girl.
I was an Oreo, as he called me, and I didn't "act black"
as if I were thespian on center stage --
Why wasn't I acting the part?
They had given me a personality that fit into a stereotype,
they ascribed me an identity while I was still trying to figure it out myself.
At 16, my identity had been reduced
to a cookie. A simple snack treat. It was fine in their eyes, because
the white part was better.
I became insecure and stayed inside the shell that I had built for myself.
I tried to go by Denise for some time, I tried to give myself a new identity.
I hated that nickname, but I told myself it would be worth it.
But if it was supposed to be worth it, why didn't I feel any more free?
Why didn't I feel like I could be somebody? Why did I feel like
there had been chains put on me that only I could see?
While I rested comfortably, my professor was ready to flip over the hammock
that I had gotten used to relaxing on. He talked feeling the need to give up
a part of our identity in order to fit in with the larger crowd. It was worse,
because it wasn't peer pressure. Nobody was forcing us to give up who we were -
we did it voluntarily. And as I let these words weigh in my mind, he challenged
us more. And said that if we aren't condemning it, we are condoning it.
And I was condoning it. I was hiding away because I wanted to be comfortable.
I didn't want the whispers or the words. I didn't want to be a cookie. But I didn't have to be.
My name is Denisha. And my name a part of my identity, but how dare we let that dictate
the way we believe a personality ought to be.
When I was 18, a friend of mine looked at me with honest eyes, and said
that I was one of the nicest black women I know. Not one of the nicest women.
One of the nicest black women. As if I was in a separate category of what it means to be kind and that my category was the lesser. I had reached the top of the bottom, and he expected me to celebrate that as if I had just received a golden compliment. The highest praise for that a black woman could strive for. I was nice, for a black girl.
And that same friend told me that he didn't think
we'd become friends. He saw my name on Facebook
and was instantly turned off at the promise
of camaraderie. He assumed that I
would be "ghetto" or "ratchet."
Whatever that means. So we were back
to the name thing.
Some days, I straighten my hair. Other days, I curl it. Hands reach towards my hair
as if I were an exhibit in a museum, an problem they couldn't quite
figure out, like the Hodge conjecture. Someone once
touched my hair and told me that it felt soft,
but still felt black. Someone else asked me to
pull out a piece of my hair, because
he didn't believe that it was real.
And the sad part, is that I did it.
I felt the need to prove myself, but what was the prize?
I had good hair, for a black girl.
You see, I get told that my 'black is beautiful,' but
society seems to have a different idea.
Black means 'ghetto.' Black means 'nappy.'
Black means 'lesser.' They won't always treat me right.
My standards are measured on a scale of 0 to white, and
the best that I can be is balanced against what
society says it means to be white.
It's the reason why someone can tell me that that I would be gorgeous….
if I were only a shade lighter. I suppose I just looked alright,
for a black girl. My beauty was being compared to
an unknown standard that I wasn't aware of at the time.
For some time, I believe him. I thought that I wasn't attractive
until I realized that his soul also would be
gorgeous if it were a shade less superficial
and less filled with the lies that society has fed us.
My life is filled with the shadows of stereotypes,
following me wherever I go.
I am an actor on a white-washed stage but I do not like
the part that they have written for me. I do not like
the character they expect me to be. I do not like the goals they
except me to accomplish, the statistic they expect me
to conform to.
Maybe I am taking this too seriously.
Maybe I'm not. Maybe just speaking up
about these experiences is the first step.
And not just for a black girl --
for all races.
Changing the perceptions of an entire society
is impossible until enough people believe that is isn't.
I can't do anything about the personal experiences
and people have that shape their stereotypes --
but something can be done about how we universalize
these experiences and stereotype an entire group of
I can't do anything about how the media portrays certain groups of people,
but something can be done to the point where we can no longer hide
behind our shades of ignorance.
Something can be done to make enough people open up their closed minds
about conversations on race.
We can't change the mind of every individual in an entire society,
but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.