I was raised to be racist.
It’s funny when people see me––a darker-skinned person of color––and I let them know I was raised in a racist household. I was adopted when I was a day old by a white couple. My dad never showed any signs of discrimination to others when I was around, but he and my mother divorced when I was two. His influence disappeared when I was seven—he passed away from cancer. My mother, on the other hand, had a distinct opinion of people of different races that I carried with me up until the last couple of years.
I was raised to fear my own people. Though more prone to letting me explore the Korean side of my ethnicity, my mother was uncomfortable with me reaching out to any black people we may have been around.
My best friend in first grade was another mixed girl—she was both black and white. My mum got along very well with her mum and we went to the same church. However, every time I hung out with her, my mother would lecture me on how I would inevitably end up picking up on her mannerisms, specifically ‘talking black.’ She told me it wasn’t acceptable and she refused to have that kind of ‘talk’ in her house. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it wasn’t worth a bar of soap in my mouth.
My mum wasn’t fond of my making black friends at school either. If they weren’t white, I couldn’t bring them home. Eventually, I ended up being homeschooled from sixth to tenth grade to avoid these kinds of encounters. We lived in predominantly white suburban areas, so any exposure I had to other kids my age was limited to a similar circle. She taught me to believe that people who were the same skin color as me fit the same stereotype: unintelligent, inappropriate and inherently dangerous.
I didn’t make any black friends––outside of the two or three I met on the internet––until I moved to Columbus, OH about three years ago. Even then, I don’t think I made any direct friendships until last year. When I first moved here, I caught myself shrinking away from the diversity this beautiful, growing city has to offer. Though at this point, my mother and I had parted ways, I still noticed her influence. I do even now.
I always had this image of myself that I knew I could never achieve. I recall my mother telling me when I was around 16 that she had expected me to be lighter because I was mixed. She had expected the Asian genes to carry more than the Haitian in my blood. I wanted my skin to be lighter, my hair to be straighter, my appearance to mimic the other half of my ethnicity more than the blackness that everyone initially saw.
I ended up doing that typical Generation Z thing of turning to Google for all my problems. I clearly remember Googling ‘how to be confident in your blackness.’ I stumbled across a Glamour article and survey titled ‘Black Women Are More Confident Than Any Other Group of Females’ [https://www.glamour.com/story/black-women-more-confident-other-groups-females-survey] . I remember my first thought being, ‘Why? Why would they be confident?’ Here’s a snippet of the article that stood out to me:
“In survey question after survey question, a pattern emerged: Black women consistently reported higher self-esteem than white or Hispanic women and—among other things—they were far more likely to describe themselves as successful (44 percent said so, compared with 30 percent of white women and 21 percent of Hispanic) and beautiful (59 percent, versus 25 and 32 percent).
‘Research shows black women score higher on self-esteem than women of other races and ethnicities, which may seem surprising, given the long history of prejudice and discrimination they have faced.’ – Jean Twenge, Ph.D.”
My concept of beauty was so wrapped around the idea of being thin, light-skinned and fair complexioned. My concept of success was all the women I’d seen growing up who all fit the same mold. I couldn’t fathom the concept of being confident enough to genuinely say that you thought you were beautiful or successful.
Another quote that stood out:
“Black women also think more positively about themselves and their bodies when they look in the mirror: 56 percent say ‘I am proud of the person I am becoming,’ and 47 percent say ‘I am happy the way that I am.’ (For white women, those figures are just 37 and 34 percent.) ‘Growing up, black women are taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough—and that mindset is passed down from generation to generation as a defense mechanism against discrimination,’ says Twenge. ‘The more confident you are, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with racism.'”
Having never inherited or being exposed to that mindset, I was suddenly aware of why it was so hard for me to comprehend. I decided to make a change starting then. I looked into black women making a difference, from learning more about Rosa Parks (a topic I never really got to in school), Madame C.J. Walker to Oprah and Viola Davis. I discovered Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give), another awesome mixed non-binary individual (they do exist!) who’s currently doing awesome things on social media and for activism. There are a lot of other influential women out there; some I’m still discovering or haven’t discovered yet.
In the end, though I certainly have a long way to go when it comes to looking in the mirror and calling myself beautiful and successful, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m maybe not confident, but comfortable in my blackness. I can’t wait until the day I relish in it, where I’m confident in it and where I’m in love with it.
Author: Sora Lee
Author Bio: I’m a 21-year-old mixed, queer, non-binary individual who is passionate about writing and music. I use they/them pronouns! After much travel, I’ve settled down in Columbus, Ohio, and I am pursuing an education and career in journalism. My focuses are: lifestyle, diversity/culture, mental health and the LGBTQ+ community.
Link to social media or website: Instagram @s.oraj