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All I ever had to define myself, all I know, is that I am part French. Warm French summers in the countryside, full of laughter, good food, family time, and my French education, that was what I considered my culture. Knowing not of the severity of any social exclusion or distinction, because I had never been exposed to it. Yet this was all abruptly shattered when my families drifted apart. I remember hearing “You don’t even know where your daughter is from!”: The first time my curly hair, tan skin and dark eyes, and my dad being adopted, became obvious to me.
Having never known my ethnicity, because my Dad is adopted, this essential part of understanding who I am never truly affected me until this point of my life. Am I white? Am I black? Something else? I realized then the different degrees of treatment according to the shade of one’s skin. It is everywhere around me. The beauty and shine and glow and originality that I saw in darker skin as a young girl, the one I wanted so badly to resemble and was so proud to be even a little bit like, became a criticism and a joke as I grew up. I couldn’t understand how my darker skin and thick curls, or the association of me to dark women, could ever be insulting. Now, I see myself and I helplessly wonder how these beautiful women must feel every day. This experience that may not seem like much has made the issue of racism essentially important to me. It has given me the knowledge of who I want to be. I still don’t know where I’m from, but this seemingly restrictive trait has opened my eyes and given me a sympathy and compassion of a different sort. The feeling of disgust I experience in situations of discrimination is indescribable to me and my inability to overlook it is what allows me to realize that I have a different perspective. No matter how unintentional or subtle any form of discrimination may be or may have come before me, it never goes unnoticed.
Slowly, I began to speak out the only way I could, which was directly confronting people about what they say. For those who couldn’t or didn’t want to. When our class visited the Old Depot Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I noticed little Confederate flag merchandise in the gift-shop. Immediately, I thought of the hatred and disrespect this flag directs towards African-American communities. Seeing that this was still relevant and occurring in this region, I was already shocked. But when the people around me began to laugh and buy the merchandise as a joke, I had to leave. When those around me, so fortunate to be educated and privileged, joked and laughed about it as if it was nothing, as if it wasn’t still happening today, I realized the ignorance that surrounded me.
Frustrated, I took the anger from my peer’s ignorance and this normalized racism and was disrespectful towards my teachers whom I thought – at the time – should have been there to stop it. But you can’t stop thousands of people from thinking the way they do… I can’t even stop 40 kids from using one word. Yet, from this situation, I was able to make the teachers understand my concern, and they decided to get someone to come talk to the students about the use of racial slurs I felt really accomplished, and satisfied… It made me realize how much I can actually do. Now, I consistently post on my social media, started a blog “Fight for Human Rights” with some friends where we write about issues we care about, explain and cut ties with people who can’t respect my values. White silence is white consent, and it is time for people to use their privilege for the greater good. Now more than ever.
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