“We wear uniforms to make us all the same, so we spent all our time emphasizing all the ways that we were different. In some ways it is a good thing, but in other ways, it is quite demoralizing. My new school suddenly brought my race into focus. For the first time, I started confronting what it meant to be different: a black, dark-skinned girl, growing up in a predominately white city in America.”
“Laughter heals all wounds, and that’s one thing that everybody shares. No matter what you’re going through, it makes you forget about your problems. I think the world should keep laughing.” – Kevin Hart
During some of the most difficult moments of my life, I would use comedy to cope. I remember dashing up the stairs, and bolting into my room in search of my iPad with its bulky, green case. I’d swipe through page after page looking for the YouTube app. After finding and clicking on it, my fifth grade self would type “Kingsley” in the search bar. I admired his sense of humor. The way he talked about the unfortunate events in his life were not only amusing but relatable. Kingsley’s videos would rid that feeling of loneliness that lay inside me. It helped me realize that I am not the only person dealing with people who would judge me based on some characteristic that I can’t change. He influenced me to laugh at and belittle ignorance instead of allowing it to tear me down.
Whenever people first meet me, they usually think I am shy and reserved. But over the years, I have realized that people who know me really well think of me as “the funny one.” After spending hours of free time watching comedians like Kingsley or Kevin Hart, I decided to start expressing my sense of humor to everyone. Well, scratch that, I expressed my jokes to small groups of people I know, or that I am getting to know. Making people laugh allows me to find confidence in myself. When I am laughing with my friends or my family, it distracts me from the sadness and sappy emotions that I feel on the inside.
Now you are probably wondering, What on earth is making this girl so sad?? I will answer your question with a brief story about my life. But I don’t want to share a depressing story with you because as you can tell, I prefer to think happy thoughts. I will tell you about some of the remarks and actions people have directed towards me regarding my race. Although the experiences completely diminished my self-esteem, looking back, I often realized that my reaction to these situations were so ridiculous that they were actually quite funny. Be prepared to read the unfortunate yet amusing story that is my life.
To start off, I would love to thank the Hill School for shaping me into the kind, compassionate person I am today. Also, fuck the Hill School for blinding me to the world of racism and mean people. From preschool to third grade, I attended that “crunchy granola” place with its unrealistic views of the world. Hill School is located in New York City, and the campus is every child’s dream. The building is yellow and resembles a castle resting upon a grassy hill. There are vivacious colors from the flora and fauna surrounding the school, and a beautiful creek that can only be crossed if walked over the wooden bridge they built to make us feel special. If this does not sound ridiculous to you, then you need a reality check.
We literally spent the majority of our time talking about having “good moral values” and “sticking together as a community.”
At 8:30 in the morning, every student walks single file into the gym, and then proceeds to disperse into groups based on grade. The music teacher walks to the front of the gym with a guitar in hand, and smiles at all the children waiting to start the school day. He strums the chords of the “Garden Song,” and all the students put their hands in the air creating motions that represent the lyrics of the song: “inch-by-inch / row by row / I want to make my garden grow / all it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.” It was as if we were preparing ourselves to plant flowers together.
Since we spent so much time learning how to collaborate and how to be inclusive, students were never really mean to each other. Well, of course every now and then, there would be some traces of bullying. However, mean behavior was not tolerated – especially among the kids. The kids who would lash out at their peers were often isolated by the rest of the class. One girl, Nora, was the biggest bully in our entire class. During recess, she actually had the nerve to push me down the slide with aggression, screaming, “Go down the stupid slide! The slide is stupid and you’re stupid too!” I hope you are all laughing at this scene. I really thought this was a big deal as a kid, but looking back this is now mildly amusing to me. Anyways… a group of my friends went and told the teacher, and Nora was put in time out for the rest of recess. Just for calling me stupid! Hill did not stand for this type of behavior.
My parents began to realize how cushy the Hill School was, so when our family moved to New Jersey from New York City, they decided I needed a change. So they pulled me out of the granola paradise and sent me to the Valley Girls School in an affluent New Jersey suburb. I had a lot of mixed emotions about transitioning. There was a sadness in my heart because I had to leave the comfort of my old school. However, part of me was really looking forward to a change.
Growing up, I watched a tremendous amount of TV. For some reason, I took all the shows I watched very seriously. My expectations for life were quite high because of these ridiculous shows. I am honestly still trying to understand why I believed the plots could even be close to reality. Literally, 20-year-olds were playing high/middle-schoolers living the most perfect life, and so I thought to myself, “Lol, when I go to this new school, I am going to have a glow up and make so many friends on the very first day.” By the time I walked into the building on my first day at Valley, everything hit me. The television had been lying to me!
Valley marked the beginning of the rest of my life. My view of the world was suddenly altered. At Hill, everything seemed to be one color. The idea of difference was never really addressed. For example, when looking at my friend, I wouldn’t see her as my “white friend,” I’d see her as my friend. However, at Valley, everyone emphasizes how we are different and the same. We wear uniforms to make us all the same, so we spent all our time emphasizing all the ways that we were different. In some ways it is a good thing, but in other ways, it is quite demoralizing. My new school suddenly brought my race into focus. For the first time, I started confronting what it meant to be different: a black, dark-skinned girl, growing up in a predominately white city in America.
First off, Valley has a very different way of running their morning meetings compared to Hill. As I sat in the gathering room at Valley, I was expecting an old man to walk to the front of the room and sing about the greatness of nature. Instead, a young British man stood in the middle of the room and told us to stand up and face the flag. Now I am thinking to myself, What on earth is going on? People put their hands to their hearts, and start pledging allegiance to the flag. Even though I spent the majority of my life in America (I lived overseas for a couple years), this pledge was unfamiliar to me. I’m not sure what was going on at Hill, but we did not learn the Pledge of Allegiance and my parents are foreigners, so we never really talked about it at home either. I didn’t really consider myself to be living in America or really understand what that meant. In my ten-year old brain, I just thought that we are living in a tiny corner of the world with people that I care about. So, I was feeling really confused during my first day of morning meeting at Valley. I didn’t know the words to this pledge and didn’t know what to do with my heart. So my fourth grade self looked around aimlessly trying to mouth the words to the pledge of allegiance, with my left hand on the right side of my chest. D-I-S-A-S-T-R-O-U-S. That morning foreshadowed what I was about to experience at this school.
One thing I wanted to accomplish at Valley was to be “popular.” On the TV shows that I would watch, the pretty, blonde white girl would usually be the one with all the friends, and would have guys falling all over her. This girl is typically a strong reflection of American stereotypes. So going into Valley, I thought to myself that I needed to find the blonde, preppy girls so that I could become popular. Some of you may think, Why assume that there is a certain look for popularity? Well, in this affluent suburban town, there is a group of white girls placed at the top of the social hierarchy. I know that I am correct because as soon as I got into the classroom, there they were. Two blonde, preppy girls standing in the corner of the room, giggling and twirling their extremely light hair. And let me tell you, those girls carried a lot of power. Our grade made a conscious effort to name that little clique by combining their names. From what I remember, a lot of people were kind of jealous of them, and low-key yearned to be a part of their little, privileged bubble. I was one of those people, and at first, I really thought that I could be friends with them. Remember those Hill values? Everyone should be friends with everyone. That can work at Valley too, right? L-M-A-O! Oh boy, was I wrong.
When my dark-skinned, goofy self came up to “the populars” attempting to make convo, they looked at me as if I were crazy. I felt as if I didn’t have the right to be friends with them because of the way I looked. This is the first time in my life, that I remember wanting to be white so badly. One day, I saw one of the blondes brushing her hair after swimming. The bristles went through her hair so elegantly. I wanted my hair to do that, so for some reason I thought that if my friend and I could take out my cornrows with scissors and a huge brush, my kinky hair would do the same. However, I am black as ever, and my hair is so thick that running a brush through it would be like biking through wet cement. On that day, I lost a lot of hair trying to be white. Funny how six years later, I am still trying to grow out my hair after that incident (and the relaxers and blow-outs too, but that is another story.)
Eventually, I understood that I will never be white. And my friends will not be friends because they are popular or pretty. But, there were feelings of shame for being black. I really had trouble looking in the mirror and being happy with what I see. My school worsened my self esteem. On my 12th birthday in the sixth grade, I was waiting in the lunch line. As I was staring at the chicken on the platter, there was a tap on my back. This girl kept trying to talk to me while I was just trying to get some food. She kept on rambling, but I was so focused on that chicken that could have been in my stomach. This child kept running her mouth, and eventually she said something so ignorant. “Your nose is big because you black.” At first, I was not phased because one, I hear shit like that all the time, and two, I was hungry and food was more important to me than addressing that dumb comment. One of my close friends Charlie heard what Ms. I-don’t-have-an-off-button said, and she proceeded to tell the whole grade what happened. The Ms. Off-Button got in a lot of trouble which was a bonus, but unfortunately, I kept replaying the situation in my head. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. My nose became one of my biggest insecurities. As I went into middle school at Valley, racist comments were thrown at my face. My own friends would comment on the versatility of my hair. Whether it was braided, straightened, or had a weave, my white friends would always have something negative to say. With all that negativity, I really started hating myself.
Do people at this school only come for their friends’ appearance? Lol nope, they literally judge your wealth (or lack thereof) as well. It is shocking that kids in middle school would make fun of someone for living in a small house. These girls would feel so powerful for having the money for a big house. But I am just sitting here thinking, Your ten-year-old ass is not doing anything to make money, so why do you think you have the audacity to talk about other people’s social class? When I went to Hill, everyone lived in a relatively small house. Then I came to this superficial school, and children are out here comparing mansions… I would feel embarrassed inviting friends over because they would make remarks about my house like, “Don’t you feel crowded in here??” and I would just say in my head, Well I can move my arms and legs. I have the ability to walk around. Does it look like the walls are closing in or something, Ms. Privilege?
Now on top of my appearance and status, there is another issue. My personality. Don’t worry, I am not a mean person, but throughout middle school, my peers thought I was not “black enough.” First of all, the majority of my friends were not black, and they were kinda on the emo side. So, I spent a lot of time being with them and embracing emo music (I was already feeling depressed because of the way I looked and I ended up connecting with those songs.) I started to be made fun of by my black peers who are the complete opposite of me. They are outgoing, have the ability to twerk, listen to rap music, and they’re popular because of it. Fantastic. I am not white enough to be with the popular white kids or black enough to be with popular black kids. What does that make me? Raceless??
So there I was. Antisocial. Emo. Black. Ugly. Confused. At the start of eighth grade, I really couldn’t tell who I was looking at in the mirror.
I had to do something. The feelings of confusion and depression needed to go. There needed to be a good change around this heinous school. There needed to be a good change within myself.
Let’s take it back to the beginning of my story. I am good at making people laugh. Not only my friends, but the rest of the people in the school. Comedy is the one thing that makes me feel like I know who I am. After all those hours of Kevin Hart and Kingsley videos, I decided to take my humor in front of larger groups of people. During my presentations in Chinese class, I was able to encourage my peers to laugh in a language that I don’t even understand that well. Before middle school ended, we were all forced to tell a story about our lives. Since my life is ridiculously hilarious, I managed to get a lot of laughs out of all my classmates. Once I started getting comfortable with my jokes, I started to actually gain confidence in myself.
I am now going into eleventh grade. The person I am now is completely different to the Hill girl who just stepped in the building several years ago. I am embracing my black beauty, and have found a group of friends who appreciate me for who I am rather than the stereotype I should be a part of. Am I 100% happy with my appearance? Nope, but now I am on a path where there is a possibility for me to achieve happiness. If I didn’t focus my energies on making people laugh, I could still be an emo black girl. Moral of the story is: there will always be shitty people who will make you feel less than. And if you are as sensitive as me, the comments will always hurt you. But once you’ve found something about yourself that you admire, the sky is the limit.
Leaving Hill transitioning to Valley was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. However, the whole process is shaping me into a developing superstar.
Hill has taught me to be a caring person, to treat everyone equally, to join together as one. Valley has taught me to fight back negativity with grit and a huge punch of comedy.