By Mallory Walker
Three years ago, I was standing in line at a special graduation ceremony—one that honored my school’s African-American students—when one of my classmates turned around, looked straight at me and said, “If you’re black, you’re always black, not just when it’s convenient.”
As stinging as those words were, my classmate was right. Acknowledging my blackness only when it’s celebrated isn’t fair. And while I’m proud of my race today, it wasn’t always that way. Technically, I’m biracial—my dad is African-American, and my mom is Caucasian.
I was raised in a family that taught me acceptance, tolerance and understanding. But for much of my life, I struggled with racism outside of my home…and it led me to completely ignore my blackness.
I was in third grade the first time I experienced racism. A classmate asked my friend Brian if he had a crush on me. The question didn’t bother me, but Brian looked disgusted. “I don’t like Mallory—she’s black!” he immediately blurted out, in a tone sounding so reasonable that I initially brushed off his harsh remark. But once his statement began to sink in, I couldn’t shake the discomfort I felt. My friend didn’t like the one thing I couldn’t change about myself.
In school, we’re taught about racism in terms of slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement, but racism today isn’t always outward and obvious like those things of the past. Now it often comes in much more subtle forms, like when people say, “You’re pretty for a black girl,” or, “You’re white on the inside.”
My classmates called me an “Oreo” for looking black but “acting” like a white person. I didn’t listen to rap music, or act loud and angry—common stereotypes—so I was told I was “too white to be black.” And honestly, after a while, I started to believe it.
I spent my high school years completely ignoring my blackness. I told people I was mixed, but I really had no interest in digging any deeper. I hung out with a group of all-white friends, and we never acknowledged my ethnicity.
I ignored any teacher’s suggestions to join our school’s black student organization, thinking it would make me feel even more out of place as a mixed-race student. It wasn’t until the end of my senior year that it all changed. I was at the African-American Awareness Association’s kente cloth ceremony, in which black students each receive a brightly patterned woven fabric that serves as a symbol of culture and heritage.
While my fellow classmates of color were already part of the organization, some having even helped plan the event, I only attended because my brother had done so a few years before—and a teacher had put the paperwork in my hands and walked away.
It was the words of my classmate during that ceremony—“If you’re black, you’re always black”—that I carried with me as I went on to college and began to explore my identity as a black person. I was no longer ashamed but instead motivated to seek out what it meant for me.
As I discovered a level of comfort with myself, I was able to open my eyes to the harsh reality people of color continue to face. While I spent my life dealing with backhanded comments and subtle discriminations, black people throughout the United States have dealt with far more severe forms of racism, such as racial profiling and police brutality. Being black means choosing to fully embrace my identity, despite the hardships African-Americans might endure. It’s about raising my voice for justice for people of color. And it’s about honoring my history.
Being black is something to be proud of. It’s not the only thing that defines me, but it’s part of what makes me whole. I am intelligent, clever, passionate, kind, beautiful—and I am black.
Article originally ran in Girls’ Life magazine, 2015. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.org.