Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Drop of Anything

"It only takes one drop." 

My dad said that a lot to my sisters and me. We'd say back that we were mixed and he'd glare, as if the white in us wasn't good enough. Then he'd laugh in our face and talk about how naive we were. "Wait until you're in the real world," he'd say. People in the real world would treat us black. It didn't matter who we thought we were. All that mattered was how we looked. 

He was partly right.

Every February, our school rehashed rehearsed material about slavery and civil rights. Our teachers preached equality and put up pictures of different colored hands all touching each other. "It doesn't matter what's on the outside," they'd say, "only what's on the inside."

The white parents would talk to us after school. "You guys are beautiful. It must be great to fit in anywhere."

It wasn't their fault. They didn't know it only took one drop of anything.

"You're not black enough," a black kid in high school said, looking me straight in the face after I asked to join their club. I knew why too. It wasn't that I spoke well or that I came from the suburbs. It wasn't that I had good grades, as their advisor would later defend, or because I didn't wear their clothes. It was the color of my skin.

It was because of something I could not change.

I didn't cry until I got home, until I told my dad, wanting to throw it in his face. The one group I had been banished to, because of something I had no control over, even that one group didn't want me. I was nothing.

So yeah, it's great fitting in everywhere until you realize no one wants to own you. Even worse when you realize you're only there to benefit them.

"Can you mark yourself as black?" An employer once asked me. "It would look good for the company."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sting of Chlorine by PH

I bounded up the bleachers barefoot, my hair still dripping wet from the last race, to where everyone's parents would sit and watch. I had won first place in backstroke and third place in butterfly stroke. It wasn't a huge swim meet, and it was a home meet, but I still hoped they'd be proud.

When I couldn't find them, I scanned the area again, ready to show off, ready for praise. My teammates' parents were already there, hugging their kids, getting ready to head home. Mine were probably just late.

I sat down and waited for what felt like an hour. After a few minutes, I decided to go and check the lobby. 

As I walked out of the pool area, the comforting scent of humid chlorine was replaced with the cold, hard air. The change shrank my lungs. I stood by myself and watched more parents leave with their kids, who still bounced from the races. Then lobby was empty.

Breathing hurt, though I'm not sure if it was the fear or the air. I began to shake, sitting there on a bench, looking out the door.