Excerpt from “Internalized Ignorance”
When I was younger, yes I was black, but I was very oblivious to the fact. After being taught by non-black teachers my whole life that nothing was a racial matter, and that we were all one color, I truly believed it; Black issues were non issues. In fact, I treated being black as a nonfactor. I was not like the other black kids in school; ghetto and rude, who wore wrinkly clothes, yet expensive shoes. I was not impolite to teachers, or late without a cause, nor did I have to struggle through and read basic reading passages. If these kids were what being black meant, surely my past teachers were right; their colors did not exist, therefore they did not either. On top of that, I was Haitian and other black people would have nothing but insults once they became mindful of that fact. I was seen as the negro of the negro world; damn near dirt.
Once in high school, surrounded by white people, I became increasingly aware of the differences. The way many people would suddenly adopt urban dialects when addressing me, the way my peers looked confused as I read the highest scoring essay in the class, how high fives became fist bumps once salutations were directed at me. I became conscious of the stares I’d receive in stores, the assistance employees at establishments would insist upon giving me, and the anxiety that flashed across their faces if I walked out without purchasing anything.
It was about color. Everything. They weren’t attentive to their Caucasian customers, watching their figures down every aisle, pretending to have something to rearrange on every shelf. They didn’t ask their Caucasian customers what they needed or were looking for, as if they couldn’t wait for the transaction to end as soon as possible, impatient as if I had requested their aid.
There are certain facts we have always known of, but have never really known until the reality of it all hit us. My ethnicity was that.