Blackness by Taylor Terry
My name does not match the color of my skin.
Before my family and I moved, I asked my mom why she chose my name. She told me that it was for my own protection. I didn’t get it until we moved into the suburbs. I was on the playground, hoping to make friends, but I remember the boy’s remark once I introduced myself: “That’s not a black girl’s name.” Suddenly, my face felt hot as I was launched into my first cultural confrontation.
I quickly grew aware of this invisible barrier separating me from my classmates that reflected the societal gap between cultures. I found myself in bigoted environments where differences were criticized, but “normal” was celebrated. The unfamiliarity of cornrows in a predominantly white community was frightening. “Why is your hair like that?” they would ask. And whenever I would turn towards the teacher, she would plaster on a smile, urging me to answer, but I never found one. I had a name that wasn’t mine and hair that didn’t match theirs, so, who was I? It was unclear, so I allowed my environment to dictate my identity for me. Once I entered middle school, I changed my appearance, demeanor, and speech. I chose assimilation for acceptance and I was no longer an individual within society.
My exploration of finding my identity was constantly hindered by the overwhelming urge to prove myself, and my longing for validation stemmed from the fear of social rejection. I vaguely recall a time where I walked into a classroom and did not anticipate that I would be marked by the stigma against dark skin. It made me uncomfortable to talk about diversity when I knew that I would be the only representative of my race in a society where African Americans were either unrepresented or misrepresented.
But I’m tired of living a life where women of color are taught to be ashamed of their own culture—ashamed of who we are naturally. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that these differences will make me who I am, I would. There is value to being different; it sparks a conversation, and it is through conversation that acceptance is achieved. Because as an urban woman, I—we—are more than just a skin color.