This is a guest post by Jade Arielle Bolden, a 15-year-old student at the College Preparatory Academy in Houston, Texas. She was born on Long Island and aspires to move back to New York and attend Columbia University. She runs track, is part of Voices of Black Youth (an organization run by her her school), and is involved in the Student Council.
Am I a victim of racism at my school?
Or am I just used to it?
If someone were to point-blank ask me the former question, I’d most likely say no. I believe myself to be good at tolerating discomfort. Allergies? I don’t even blink. I just deal with it. So, when my fellow classmates during my middle school courses on Texas and world history turned and looked at me when the topic of slavery came up, why did I blink an eye?
I was born on Long Island, New York. The school I grew up in had few white students, and I can’t recall my teachers ever being less than accepting of my classmates. Thus, moving to the suburbs of one of Texas’ biggest cities was a bit of a culture shock. Being the only Black girl in all my classes until the sixth grade was the most daunting thing I’ve ever encountered, but after a while I got used to it.
I got used to the stares, to those trivial but substantive and “meaning no harm” comments about my facial structure, my personality, the way I spoke. I got used to going home and being asked by my parents why all my friends were white. I’ve always known my worth. And even though I’ve always been this person who was confident in my own self, and enjoyed ways in which I could express myself, I suddenly started straightening my hair more frequently (although this most definitely was not objected to by my mother). I started wearing brands like Abercrombie, and an abomination to this world known as Justice. I even picked up cheer-leading although I have no coordination or any sense of rhythm.
But this was the most poignant issue for me: I felt I would not have even one Black friend until I got to high school. I question my thought process then. Did I think I would be put in this box of what was acceptable? Like it would make sense that I was with other Black people? After all, not one of the of the few other Black people at school hung out with people of the same color anyway. But there’s also the question of did I not want to be in this figurative box at all? The clothes, the extracurriculars, the advanced classes: I would be the only Black person there. In addition, not one of my white peers expected me to be in the advanced classes anyway. Did I want them to see me as this other? Did I want them to think, “well, she’s Black but she’s intelligent and does everything we do, so what is she?”
What am I?
What I do know about myself is that I am a strong, intelligent human being who is also a Black girl growing up in racially-ignorant America. Once I got into high school, I knew things would have to be different. In middle school, I pushed my parents to allow me to go to one of Texas’ most academically-competitive private schools for girls. Although I’m still in an environment with a predominantly white student body, this school recruited me into a sorority of sorts, a group connected to my school with Black faculty that offers social opportunities for Black students. We get to form bonds with one another. This has also given me the chance to flourish and have confidence in myself as a Black girl.
This past February, the school gave our organization a chance to have an assembly for the whole student body on Black history, as well as topical subjects like attacks on Black people and our culture. This assemblage gave me the chance to speak out about my convictions in a way I’ve never been able to before. It made me feel like I held the power within me to change something, anything, even a little bit. And although some ignorant students at my school were still able to concoct a blind view of what we conveyed, some even saying to my peers that everyone has to deal with the same police brutality and oppression, their prejudice was surely outweighed by my other classmates who took the opportunity to learn from the things we had said. They even applauded me for my work which made me feel even more accomplished.
But even still, there is my honors English class where I am the only Black student, there are girls who get caught saying the “n” word and other racially derogatory terms, teachers who stare uncomfortably when they notice I’m not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. And there is also me, who takes the time to explain to her middle-aged white teacher why she does not need to pledge allegiance to a country that is still not completely for everyone. And there are kids across the globe who wish to see and want to be a part of the change.
Will we be given the power to spark change?