In response to “When did you first realize you were black?”
My parents are the type that believe in education above all else, and it was with this belief in mind that they stuck me in private school since the age of three. As everyone knows private school (with a few not-so-positive exceptions) essentially means white school. I was always The Black Friend, though I didn’t necessarily think of myself as such in the beginning: I saw myself as a friend, and in my youngest years considered myself and my white friend Anna as one and the same. We were both smart, and liked to read, and were just crossing the line from cute to chubby. Nevermind that she had pink skin and long blond hair; I honestly saw no difference.
I barely remember Anna now, but one scene from my earliest years prevents me from forgetting her entirely. She holds the honorable position as the first person to ever use my blackness against me.
There was a group of us, three whites one asian, and me, who sometimes played together. Because we were little girls, and princesses were practically a requirement of our childhood, we decided by mutual decision to play disney princesses.
My favorite princess has always always been Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I had memories (the important lasting kind) of me and my favorite cousin watching it over and over again over multiple bowls of popcorn and sparing sips of orange pop. In addition Belle liked to read, and I liked to read, so obviously we were something of kindred spirits.
This was the argument I presented Anna with when she challenged my desire to be Belle in our game. In return she told me that she liked to read too; plus she looked more like Belle. To which I pointed out that she had blond hair and Belle was a brunette. I suggested she be Cinderella.
And then a moment I will never forget: she grabbed my hand and jabbed her finger repeatably into my skin, and speaking slowly said, “I’m a lot closer than you.” I now realize that as much as I saw myself as the same as Anna, that would never be how she saw me (a truth that me and my fellow prep-school-blacks remind each other of constantly in our respective roles as The Black Friend: never forget what you are, because they certainly won’t). At this the other white girls nodded vigorously, seeing the logic.
This was before the lovely Tiana of the Princess and the Frog, and there were no black Disney princesses to be found. So it was decided that I would be Pocahontas. Ignoring the fact that she was native american, not in any way affiliated with Africa, it was wrong, and I felt for the first time the pressure of an unfairness that I have felt—and will continue to feel— throughout my life.
Faced with this unfairness I was tempted to scream, and if I’d been a little more temperamental, or a little less shy, I might have. Instead I stormed off and (in an action that would be reproduced constantly in my career as a Black Person) went to the only other black girl in the class, and proceeded to tell her what rude thing my crazy white friends had just done.