From a reader who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and went to college in Minneapolis:
My name is Jareesa, and I’d like to respond to the reader letter from Allene on racism in the Black community. As a Black American woman, I don’t share her views at all. I think she’s misguided in her assertion that Black people require others to be Black first, and to conform to a specific form of Blackness in order to be accepted. It’s been my experience that White America—not my fellow Black people—has foisted a caricature of Blackness on me.
Growing up, I was a nerdy kid with glasses who loved to read and was into science—an existence that was foreign to my White classmates, teachers, and their parents. I lived in a racially diverse area, went to racially diverse schools, and did lots of activities—engineering clubs, the Quiz Bowl team, theater club, Japanese club, and more. I wasn’t required to join any of the “Black” clubs, but I did so because I needed that community. I needed to be in spaces where I didn’t have stereotypical judgments from non-Black people, where I could just be myself, and where I never felt that I had to conform to some “standard of Blackness,” whatever that is.
Throughout K-12, my intelligence was questioned, especially when I expressed a desire for a career in engineering. White people were just amazed at how “articulate and well read” I was (and that continues even now, as an adult). I had White people assume I grew up in a single-parent home (I didn’t), or that I had a child in high school (I didn’t), or that I was really good at sports (I wasn’t).
In college, as one of the two Black women in the chemistry program at my state university, I was told by a classmate that I was only there because of affirmative action. Most of my other classmates simply viewed me as some kind of anomaly, as if I had three heads. And so I found sanctuary in the Black Student Union and my school’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers—places where I found acceptance, kindred spirits, and people who could relate to the things I was going through.
Sure, I’ve gotten comments about “talking White” from other Black people, but those comments were nowhere near as hurtful as the comments I’ve received from White people in my life. My Black life has been dominated by love and acceptance from other Black people, and acceptance for all of me.