How Racism at My School Led Me to Love My Blackness

By: Kayla McDowell

Before I start, let me just be honest for a second. I’ve gone through a big portion of my life hating my skin color. I think now that I can actually look back, it was because I related being white to being superior. I thought my life would be so much easier if I were white. What’s funny is that I thought black people would accept me more if I were white, since I always used to get made fun of for acting white.

Even if I couldn’t be white, I prayed that God would at least lighten my complexion so I could be pretty. I thought, maybe then, black people would stop making jokes about how dark I was. None of that happened, so I stopped braiding my hair, bought a flat iron, and told myself that I was going to limit the amount of black friends I had because they just didn’t understand me.

I soon realized that I didn’t really fit in with white people either, so I was stuck. I ended up separating myself from everyone in hopes that one day the world would become “colorblind”. That was my mentality when I transferred to the University of Missouri (Mizzou)  last fall.

The first few weeks went by with few problems. I was getting use to the campus, and to my surprise, I even attended an event called Fall Fest that was aimed at black students. Of course, I felt uncomfortable and left. Baby steps, I guess. Anyway, things were pretty good. My grades were excellent, I loved being on my own, and it was nice to be in a new environment. I met people, but I didn’t care to be friends, because I had my two friends at home. For me, that was enough. Again, baby steps. Everything was pretty alright, but then things really began to change.

Racism to me always seemed like a distant problem. I didn’t see it, so I didn’t really think it was an active issue. My eyes also weren’t very open to see the things that were going on anyway, but that was a different problem. In order for me to actually see it, racism had to be thrown directly into my face, and that is exactly what happened.

It began when a white man in a pickup began following our student body president one night as he was walking. As the pickup followed him, a man in the passenger seat directed racial slurs at him. Following this incident another incident occurred while our Legion of Black Collegians was practicing for homecoming. During their practice a white man on campus disrupted the rehearsal, and when they asked him to leave, he said “these niggers are getting aggressive with me.” His words shocked the group to silence.

I also knew of other people who stated that they had been called racial slurs multiple times on campus. When I heard all these things, I was appalled. I was afraid that if I walked on campus at night, I would be called names and harassed as well. Nobody should ever feel that way. It was awful because I could help but think, “Were these really the people I was going to school with? Are these people really the people that Mizzou would allow in their university?”

There came a point where it was too much, and protesters emerged to try to counteract the racism at Mizzou and to get it to stop. Yet, the problems got worse and a few students from the school went on an app called Yik Yak and said things like, “Don’t feed the protestors so they can go back to their natural habitat,” and many other things that are much too vulgar for me to repeat. I couldn’t believe that this was happening at my school.

It was as if I was in a completely different world. Before that, I’ve never seen a protest in person. It felt like I had traveled back in time to the civil rights movement. I didn’t know what to do. I stopped thinking so hard into things, and started to feel. I remember reading things on twitter about how people felt about the situation, and I couldn’t help but cry. Whenever someone would say something negative or dismissive like “get over it”, I would get very angry. I think that the turning point for me was a threat made online that stated, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see”.

At that moment, I couldn’t be colorblind anymore. I saw myself for what everyone else saw me as: black. The very same black community that I was trying to avoid because I “didn’t fit in”, was the same community that was willing to walk with me to class even if they didn’t know me just so I could feel safe. Everyone came together as one, and that meant the world to me.

I no longer felt like I didn’t fit in. I realized I was still holding on to grudges and hard feelings from people I went to middle and high school with. It stopped me from seeing this world that I was missing out on. I now see the things that the black students at Mizzou have done in the community and the things we are still doing, and I feel proud.

I look at myself now, and no longer hate the color of my skin. Those who came before us worked hard, and died in order for me to be okay with loving my skin and never will I ever take that for granted ever again. I used to want everyone to be color blind, but that would require people to ignore my beautiful melanin. Don’t ignore it. Don’t hate it. See it, and then respect it. So to the black community at Mizzou, thank you for helping me love my blackness.

If you have ever felt inadequate because of the color of your skin, I want you to look in the mirror and see all the people that fought for you to be able to love who you are. At the end of the day, know that being black is amazing because you have this community that will be there for you when times get rough.

Turn on the news and look at protests that are going on everywhere that are being started by black people. Look at the colors of the brown rainbow and see its magnificence. I wish that I had noticed it earlier. My life is so much better now that I have learned to love the color that covers my whole body. It takes time, and it’s not easy, but once you get there, you too will be able to see a new world and own your blackness.

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