Being Black In Centreville:

Kaihla Powell, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Does race matter living in a school as diverse as Centreville? People will tell you no, but in all honesty, I feel like it does. Race doesn’t divide the school, but it’s constantly addressed with too casual of an approach.

In 4th grade, I was asked, “How many Black friends do you have in our school?” I said that I had six and got the response: “I bet I have more Black friends than you.” This came from a girl in a social circle, where I was the only black kid. I didn’t understand why it mattered to her. I think she wanted to prove that she was a social butterfly and I wasn’t, but it hurt me for the longest time. Why did my race have to create an unneeded competition? I felt like something was wrong with me and that she was somehow better than I was because she had more friends of my race than I did. This was my first experience that taught me that people outside of my race had expectations of my social habits.

Before that experience, I never felt like my race was a big deal. It was a part of me, but it had never been a conversational topic. I was being stereotyped and judged just by race and I had no clue how to deal with it. As I grew up, I learned to speak up for myself and in the process, I was extremely conscious of the “Angry or Loud Black Girl” stereotype when I was trying to break out of my shell of shyness. Since then, I’ve created procedures for this; as I’ve grown older, I find myself facing stereotypes on a consistent basis.

If anyone compares me to a stereotype, I take a deep breath and calmly ask said person, “Why did you assume this? How did any of my behavior lead to you making this assumption?” I have to moderate my behavior to make sure that I don’t get categorized. I like being unique and I despise stereotypes because they box people in.

African American students make up 10 percent of the student population. There are 220 of us out of 2,431 students, dispersed into four grades. My race itself makes me “unique” and lonely. I don’t see enough people like me to feel comfortable. This has made my friendships with my fellow black students stronger. As a result, I’m positive that I will have lifelong relationships with them because we’ve had similar experiences.

Since we have such a diverse environment, I have a group of friends that represent many races and ethnicities. This makes me “The Token Black Girl;” it makes me an outsider to my fellow black students because they aren’t the majority of my friends. I think that anyone who appears differently than their friends could be considered a “token.” However, it makes me feel like the living proof that a group of people isn’t exclusive. Someone can say, “See, I’m not racist, I have a black friend!” and I’ll be the person they’re thinking of.

All my life, I’ve had the ability to blend in and mingle with everyone. This is probably because I’m an only child. I’m used to interacting with people and tend to adapt easily. This skill leads people to tell me that I “Act White” by people who can’t describe what my actions represent. The general assumption about acting outside one’s expected race is blatant stereotyping.

No one wants to admit, but stereotypes float around our school and categorize everyone. Whether you’re called a “Basic White Girl” or a “Dumb Jock,” our student body tends to view stereotypes as a non-serious issue. Peoples’ races become jokes and icebreakers that have more impact than the original intent. I’ve sat through conversations that opened with “Kaihla probably shouldn’t contribute much seeing as she’s 3/5ths of a person,” or “Your kind aren’t welcome here; it’s for whites only.”

The first time I heard those jokes, I was a freshman and was flabbergasted that people would say these things specifically to me. At one point, I was willing to move because I felt like the student body was unfriendly to black students. I told my parents that I didn’t have any ties or commitments to give me a reason to stay because I wasn’t comfortable.

As a junior, I’m fairly desensitized to these remarks. I still get offended, but I see them as a part of the daily lifestyle as a student at Centreville High School. Other students of color are used to hearing these things too, so I see it as a general initiation into our school.
What bothers me is that the people who say this to me think that it was okay. It’s racially insensitive. I want to believe that the original intent was to test the waters and see how far someone can go with their jokes around me. Seeing as we have a diverse population, race is an obvious trait that can be addressed casually.

Yet lines seem to be crossed as a joke or casual exercise. If I have a private conversation with a friend about my discomfort with the use of the “N-word” in this school and a person looks at me and calls me one, it’s not funny. I will never find it funny, yet people don’t take this seriously.
This isn’t just a school-wide problem. I know adults, alumni of local schools, and fellow minority students who face the same issues. Our country is very diverse and it seems like this behavior is the only way to address it. The best way to make someone uncomfortable is to put them in a box and ridicule them. People might not know that they’re doing this, but society is starting to shine a light on this.

Photo by: Kimberly T. Powell