I'm so grateful Carmella Basco-Yu, a member of Grace Church's youth group, agreed to share this essay with our community. It was originally published on Facebook.
I would like to take advantage of this day, and reveal what I have experienced being a person of color and a person of mixed races growing up in a predominantly white community. And in no way am I comparing my experiences to the struggle the black community faces and the injustices they endure. This is my unique perspective.
I moved to Washington in 2010 while I was in second grade. I had moved from a part of North Carolina that holds a great amount of diversity, and at the time I did not think anything of it. But as I entered middle school, the more and more that I began to realize that there are not many that looked like me. I would often find myself to be the only person of color in my classes, and if there were other people of color in those classes it would only be, on average, one other person. This aspect is still prevalent in my years of high school. In sixth grade I would wear my hair out loud and proud, but I quickly began to feel uncomfortable once other students began to notice and touch it without my consent. This act alone made me feel as if I didn’t belong, so for the rest of middle school I would wear my hair in buns with headbands.
I was not comfortable in my own skin.
Going into freshman year I had the idea that I needed to look a certain way, to fit in with other girls or to be liked by boys, because that is what society and the media were telling me. Everyday I would fry my hair straight in hopes of being noticed and accepted. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was damaging my curls and beautiful fro which ultimately damaged who I was. I wanted to fit in so bad that I risked my identity for a skewed perception of beauty.
During sophomore year, we had a public speaker come for the MLK Jr assembly and to this day that assembly in particular still resonates with me. This is because the speaker was a strong woman of color, and before that assembly I had never seen a female POC in such a revered way. She denounced microaggressions against the black community, and that day was the first day it truly occurred to me that the act of touching a black girl’s hair was unacceptable. What made the day all the better was that once we all got back to our classes, my teacher approached me and apologized for all the times she had touched my hair without asking but meant no harm behind it because she “[didn’t] see color”. I remember going home and expressing my discontent with my mom. I was upset because although my teacher had the right intentions, she added on by saying that she did not see me at all.
At the beginning of this school year, my Junior year, I was faced with yet another uncomfortable situation but this time it was a fellow student. I was at a football game standing next to the student, a white male, and he said the n word. I looked at him in disbelief, and he returned with a smug look while saying “Yeah I use that word, I say it all the time. My friend (a half black male) said that I could”. I was in so much shock that all I replied with was that he “shouldn’t use the word because [he] did not truly understand the history and hate behind it.” In retrospect I should have said more but I felt that I wasn’t educated enough to voice my opinion and stand my ground on the matter. Later on in the year, I had a civil disagreement with a different student that was in my biology class because he, a white male, had an opinion on the term and usage of “microaggression”. He tried to explain that microaggressions weren’t real and were used to promote an excessive amount of sensitivity amongst POC over situations and experiences that didn’t matter. I feel, and expressed to him, that he did not have the right to have an opinion in that topic of discussion because it was something that did not affect him in any direct way. The fact that he has not experienced, and will never experience, them gave him no fair grounds to “disapprove” of using microaggressions.
Recently I have had certain persons tell and ask me things like “Why do you sound white?”, “you are black, but you talk like you are white”, and “You are white washed”. I don’t let these things get to me, but they leave me very frustrated because they criticized me over something that I have no control over. I grow up in this community where the bulk of the population are white individuals. I have not had opportunities to embrace my Filipino and black cultures, except at home. I am not able to relate to the people around me. I don’t know of any community leaders that are people of color. I don’t know if any local business owners that are people of color. I am not in a place that depicts successful people of color, other than my parents.
Through research and self education, my eyes have been opened to seeing positive examples of thriving communities of color. Yet there is no way that I can fully comprehend what it is like until I experience it. Leaving this sheltered community will have a positive impact on my personal culture awareness, but will come with the price of subjecting me to a new world of prejudice, stereotypes, and hatred.
Yes, I have felt like I am not enough, yes, I have hated my curls, and yes, it hurts to go to school everyday to have most of your peers not look like you. But I won’t let that keep me down. I now know that being black is beautiful, and that being Filipino is beautiful. My body is filled with blood from kings and queens, warriors and Datus. I am strong in my identity, and there is nothing that can take that away from me. I am empowered to be me each and every day.
Don’t touch my crown👸🏽.