It goes like this:
The crowd is homogeneous, bright eyes glowing against dark skin. Beyoncé and Jay-Z,the night’s stars, shine in the artificial light. They rule the stage, queen and king, wearing their skin like robes. Compared to them, I’m shabby, skin fitting like hand-me-downs. My pale friends stand out like beacons in the night, but for once, I blend in. The sensation frays my nerves.
I’m used to standing out. I’m often the only black person in a room and one of few in a
school. Throughout my academic career, I’ve been surrounded by those who take privilege for
granted, unaware of the history behind their silken hair and offbeat dancing. Those who will
never know tightly wound curls after box braids or cornrows. Those who glance at the color of
my skin and form damning conclusions about me, my intellect, my taste in music.
But seventeen years adrift in a sea of white has allowed me to form my own anchors.
I’ve grown to speak, act, and dress like my peers. I’m now confident in my “whiteness,” my
cookies-and-cream way of being myself, and I express that confidence in my academic
Community. The classroom is my harbor, where I can be myself: academically engaged,
intellectually curious, clumsily unique. I can learn and experience as I please, deriving pleasure from scattered knowledge of basic American Sign Language, the Russian alphabet, and the first one hundred Japanese numbers.
At home, the waters turn choppy. My family bemoans my tendency to “act like a white
girl.” From the way I laugh to the way I run, they see me as tainted by my education, my
experiences, my friends. They see brown skin hiding a white heart, “like an Oreo,” my cousin
My race is a façade; I’m an intruder amongst kin.
With this mindset, I retreat into myself. How can I be vibrant and witty when I fear the
jeers or mocking laughter of my community? How can I be a leader when I’m constantly told I’m just not black enough? Should I forgo proper grammar? Wear large hoops and pants sagging around my waist like I’m from the ‘hood?
In both worlds, I feel uneasy. There’s no one place I belong, nowhere I can truly just be. My time is evenly divided between home and school, black and white, and my skin itches
everywhere I go. While I laugh with friends, I wonder if I’m losing an integral part of myself, more comfortable standing out in the classroom than blending in at Meema’s house on Thanksgiving. While I joke with family, I question my diction, my tone, the way I integrate vocabulary words into everyday speech.
“Private school is messing my kids up,” my mom comments after I correct her grammar (“good” versus “well”) or elaborate on a controversial topic (bisexuality versus pansexuality).
No, I think. Private school has given me opportunities my parents never had to establish opinions on politics and society. I’m not messed up; I’m educated. But I keep my thoughts to myself.
I want to find somewhere I can speak out, somewhere my inner monologue can become corporeal. I want to be myself: neither black nor white, just me. I hope to study psychology, integrating my intellectual curiosity and unusual form of social awareness. I want to research the mindset of race and how different peoples thrive together, creating mosaics of interlocking skin tones not found in Alabama. I want to study foreign languages and cultures and meet people who embody these various aspects of humanity. I wish to create a space for belonging without a tinted lens.
I’m still torn between these two worlds, but I’m learning who I am beyond the bounds of racial identity. After the concert, my friends whine about how Beyonce didn’t sing their favorite songs while I ponder Beyonce’s sun-kissed skin and Jay-Z’s raised fist. I want to perform like my idols, with skin tailored to fit. Yet still, I seek my stage.
Kendall Owens was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a member of the Indian Springs Class of 2019 and hopes to pursue a degree in psychology and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania where she will be attending this fall. Throughout her high school career, Kendall has been an avid member of the mock trial and bowling teams, as well as participating in every opportunity to pet dogs. This is her first publication in a literary magazine.
Photograph by Sabra Rogers.