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“Black Girls Don’t Wear Sperry’s”: A Black Girl’s Struggle Dealing with Private White Institutions in Racist America

By: Simone Armour

My parents always said that society may strip you of everything but you have a right to your education. I was six years old when I walked into my first private school. The afro-puffs my mom loved to adorn me with stuck out in a sea of ponytailed and straight hair. I was young and black and I didn’t know what that really meant until I was immersed in school: a system that constricts minds to be taught for the first 18 years of their life.

As I grew up in racist America I soon learned that Black girls don’t wear Sperrys. The world thought I was supposed to be loud, obnoxious, and uneducated. I was supposed to have unruly hair and slur my consonants. Unfortunately, I let society down. I wore my hair natural or straight, I kept good grades, and I owned multiple pairs of Sperrys.

It was hard though. My black friends from my old town called me bougie and that white kids knew me as ‘oreo’, but looking back on it I was proud to represent the brown girls. The ones who were taught in school that the relevance Africans had in history was their roles as slaves. We learned that it didn’t matter who we really were, all they saw was that I had more melanin in our skin than they did.

I learned to be out of place, to be a different person at my all girls catholic school than in my crime ridden hometown. Once my family moved closer to my school,a typical white-picket fence upper class town, the facade of the ‘token black girl’ became even harder to keep up. I didn’t relate to them. I never talked about how “tan I was”, I didn’t have the same problems as them, and I certainly didn’t have the same experiences as them.

I began to think that maybe something was wrong with me. Each day I would iron my plaid skirt and place it on my wide hips and wonder why I couldn’t just be or look like my friends. They seemed to have everything figured out, the ideal white American female that ruled the world with privilege. Luckily instead of trying to change myself to fit the norms of society I found a release: writing.

It was a warm cup of hot chocolate, something that was mine and only mine and it didn’t have a color. When I wrote it was as if I was taking a picture of the pain I was enduring, the never-ending racist remarks and slurs I had grown up with in school, but after writing everything was in focus.

I learned perspective, that my problems were so small in the grand scheme of things but that it still mattered. I wanted to teach my peers, to show them that I was more than just a black girl who could afford tuition.

I wanted to show them that I was normal, that they didn’t have to watch what they said around me. I used to tell them with my eyes, “look at me, I am not rude”. During middle school when I wrote I thought I was telling them, “look at me, I won’t hurt you”. Now during my final high school years I seem to say, “look at me, look at my beautiful brown skin and hear my loud voice because I know that when you look at me you don’t see my excellence.”

I started to speak to those who were uneducated in ways that it was most important, I told them about my childhood. I was just like them: I watched American Idol, I had a pet dog, I had two loving parents, my grandmother even enrolled me in ballet class when I was 6. I told them how I ate soul food and celebrated black history month like it was Christmas.

I told them that my people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and I showed them just how the social system worked against us. I have been called an “angry black girl” too many times but I have learned that maybe it is okay to be angry, and I told them that maybe I had a right to be.

The anger bottled up inside me for years had been unleashed and not in a way that many might think, I simply told them the truth without hostility. At this point I was a social pariah, no one understood my fight. I had cultivated a garden, one with weeds but also roses and tulips, one that not many people saw the beauty in. I continue to fight, marching through the streets with my Sperrys. Going to school, educating myself and those around me.

Although school has been the place where I fought my battles it has also been the place where I’ve healed my wounds. To all the brown girls don’t let anything get in the way of your education. You are amazing, a ruby in a world filled with stones and just because those stones are all the same and are alike that doesn’t make you “weird” or “wrong”. Finally, I know that at times you may feel alone but just know that there are thousands of other brown girls out there fighting the same battles and singing the same song.

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