I’m fed up with being told that I’m “whitewashed.” It’s a derogatory term implying that I don’t meet the stereotypical “standards” of my race. Growing up, I felt that I was never “black enough” — but obviously, I was never “white enough,” either.
How can you tell me that I’m not acting like my own race? Did I miss the “How to Be Black 101” course? Constantly receiving such criticism, from within your community and outside of it, leaves the subject of that criticism feeling like an outsider.
I was raised to understand my African culture and embrace my roots, but I was also taught to appreciate other cultures. Doing both doesn’t mean that I’m trying to be someone I’m not. Should I just pretend not to like the things I like?
Throughout my childhood, and even now, I’ve constantly heard phrases like “You’re pretty white for a black girl,” or “Why do you act so white?” I never knew how to respond to such statements and questions, because I wasn’t sure what “acting black” would mean.
Whether I fully understood the situation or not, it was clear to me that I was standing out in a negative way. This racial criticism caused my self-esteem to suffer and complicated the process of figuring out my identity. Maybe I was doing something wrong? I started to wonder if there was actually something wrong with me.
I’ve been told that Africans aren’t educated and don’t speak English. Well, I’m educated, fluent in English, and have good grammar — and that doesn’t mean I’m trying to be white. Many people of colour in this country are educated and speak English; trust me, we’re not trying to be white.
I’ve also been told that poetry and art are activities that only white people are allowed to do. Well, I absolutely love theatre and appreciate poetry, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve tossed my own culture. Let’s note that some of the most well-known poets were people of colour: Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, and Langston Hughes, for example.
I’m especially sick of hearing phrases like “Musicals? No, that’s for white people.” Well, Grease is one of my all-time favourite musicals. (And yes, I realize there were hardly any black people in Grease except near the end, where there are extras dancing in the background — it was based in the ‘50s, so segregation was still prominent.) That certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten about my roots.
Another stereotype: black people don’t like reading. Well, I’d honestly rather read the book than watch the movie, and that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my race.
Eventually, I stopped feeling ashamed of myself and looked at the facts. Even my most basic positive attributes — my speech, my intellect, my love of art — were drawing negative comments.
Black people are allowed to love reading. We can like musicals. We are allowed to listen to Radiohead and Adam Levine. My interests shouldn’t be categorized solely by the colour of my skin, and my racial background shouldn’t restrict me from doing what I love.
I know now that there are no guidelines to being black; I’m in charge of who I want to be. I’ll binge-watch Stranger Things and Gossip Girl, I’ll shamelessly order as many pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks as I can possibly afford, and I will not live up to your racial stereotypes.
I am not “whitewashed”; I am a hard-working, open-minded, outgoing, proud African woman. I will continue to surpass the expectations that society has set for me. Because the ideas you ascribe to white people are not unique to them.