Racism In High School: 'I'm Not Oreo Or Ghetto -- I'm Just Being Me'
This is a teen-written article from our friends at YC Teen Mag, a magazine showcasing true stories written for and by young people in New York City.
By Nesshell Rainford
For most of my life, I’ve lived in a black community—a small and close-knit neighborhood mostly filled with West Indian folk. As a child, I wondered what it would be like to have white and Asian friends. But other than that, I never thought much about race.
In the 7th grade I started attending a new school across the street from where my family had just moved. Like my elementary school, my new school was almost entirely black. But whereas I had fit in fine in elementary school, as the weeks went by, I noticed it wasn’t so easy fitting in with the different groups in junior high.
I would often talk about celebrity crushes with the kids I hung out with. A few times they mentioned a rap or r&b artist that I had never heard about. I would mention guys from Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, my favorite bands at the time. They would laugh at my weird tastes, but for a while they didn’t seem to have a real problem with my lack of black culture.
I don’t remember what happened exactly to change that, but it felt like all of a sudden fellow classmates were teasing me about my voice, which I guess was a little bit too squeaky. They started pretending not to hear me when I knew that they did.
Acting Like an Oreo?
They said I “acted too white.” I thought this was the most ridiculous thing. I wasn’t trying to be white; actually, I was being myself. I felt that it was crazy to make fun of someone just because they don’t act like you, and especially to try to tie it to race. You can’t say an entire race acts the same; that’s just ignorant and unfair.
The popular kids began calling me “Oreo” in the hallway. They would ask me questions like, “Do you watch Disney Channel a lot?” or, “Do you watch MTV?” and laugh. Most of the time I would lie and say no, because I didn’t want them to tease me even more. I was weak and couldn’t stand up for myself. All I could do was let my anger out through my tears.
Around that time I took up African drumming after school, and the instructor used to make fun of me because I had no rhythm. The other participants laughed and told him it was because I was a “white girl.” I was so embarrassed that I quit the African drumming lessons and went to sewing instead.
When my popularity started going down the drain, the kids I’d been calling my friends gave me the boot. I was petrified. Not having any friends during junior high is like forgetting your writing tools during a test: There’s no way you can proceed, and it’s very embarrassing.