By: Tiffany Bynum
In 5th grade, there was this black boy in my class, Malcolm. He was always getting in trouble, and everytime he did, he would accuse the teacher of punishing him because he was black. I remember people in my class thinking it was ignorant, even me. “Oh he always says that”. If only I knew the message he was trying to convey.
It was when my classmates starting calling me “brownie” I became aware of my race. I was part of the girl scouts selling brownies, hence the nickname. I didn’t know if that was supposed to offend me until they said they called me that because I was brown. I mean, they weren’t lying. I was. But after that is when I started becoming self conscious of my skin color.
I’m half Filipina, half black. In middle school, only a few kids were black, and I still barely knew what that meant. I doubt they did either. Almost everyone around me was Asian, which made me insecure not only of my skin color, but my features as well. My height, my nose, how my eyebrows were too thick, my lips were too big, my eyes were too big, how I had a gap in between my front teeth, my hair was too curly. My search history was filled up with questions on how to change my appearance, how to not look black. Whenever I told kids I was black, I would get disappointed reactions, as if they felt sorry for me. From there on I told kids I was only Filipino.
I spent summers staying indoors to lighten my skin color. I remember telling my dad about how I was “darker than I actually am” and that staying indoors would make me lighter and more my actual skin color. He was mad that I felt the need to do that, however he didn’t take the time to educate me on my background. Some black parents, such as my father, were born in a time there was still segregation, which impacted the way he felt as a black American. So I can’t blame him for not knowing what to say.
In 8th grade, I took a trip with my school to the east coast, where we spent time learning about black history and everything they sacrificed in order to be where we are today. Meeting Minnijean Brown-Trickey and hearing her talk about how proud she was to be black is what finally made me feel like who I am is important. I felt wrong for being black, and I felt ashamed. But seeing influencers who you can connect with state how much they loved the skin they’re in brought a positive change to my mindset and confidence.
This is why it’s important to talk about black history throughout school. Seeing your race struggle to be accepted throughout U.S. history induces judgmental thoughts towards yourself, and others, which is why focusing on the achievements of black people can help shed a more positive light on the black community. Continuing to ignore the evolutionary side of black history would take a step backwards in the acceptance of our race. If we are always being taught about how much we struggled to get where we are, it is demotivating to step up and make change. Seeing others speak out on issues black people face as a community and culture made me finally feel important, and heard. If I celebrated black history month in my youth, I wouldn’t have struggled so hard to accept myself growing up. Even today, especially with everything going on with police brutality, black youth still feel hesitant to love who they are. Just because race is more globally accepted, it doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about it. If we stop the discussion, it becomes forgotten, and eventually we’re back at square one.