This is what it’s really like to be a young Person of Color in America
‘You have to prove you’re one of the good ones.’
For People of Color, race, and how it affects their lives, is central to developing their identity.
College is supposed to be a place where you “find yourself,” but when there is still so much racism happening on campuses, that’s easier said than done.
We asked young People of Color to explain what it’s like to face racism, misconceptions, and society’s pressures through their eyes.
What does society get wrong?
“The system fucks us over when we’re young. If society spent time and money educating blacks instead of giving out checks to heal the symptoms of a faulty foundation, we wouldn’t have to work twice as hard for half as much.”
“Wealth is too often equated with whiteness. As a wealthy Person of Color, I always feel like I’m too black for the white kids and too white for the black.”
“Being black means having a dark skin color. What’s important is destroying the illusion that being black means something more.”
“Even though we may advocate for change, our foundation is still racially skewed. The principles emplaced are not representative of the perspectives and ideologies we hold most dearly today.”
“There is no way black people can change society’s perception of them on their own. The main problem is that the actions of one black person, or any person of color, speak for the character of our entire race, but white people do not have that pressure.”
“Although I think it is important for there to be a discussion of what it means to be a person of color in America, I don’t think it will improve the lives of those people, white people will realize they have benefits. That’s about all.”
“Growing up Puerto Rican in the inner city, my culture didn’t really matter. All they see is that you’re different.”
“There’s racism within the Latino community that makes it hard to develop a racial identity. For instance, there’s racism between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. It’s almost like my generation of Puerto Ricans isn’t “Spanish enough,” so they deem us too white.”
“Ultimately we have to question if discussion or action will solve the issues in communities of color. In my opinion it’s the latter.”
What are you expected to look or act like?
“As a black girl, you literally have to learn how to do your hair. And then once you’ve spent years trying to make it straight, and damaging it, you have to learn how to love it.”
“When people know my religion or where I am from, I feel pressured to look or dress a certain way. They expect me to conform to the stereotypical image that society has implanted within their minds.”
“I think the greatest issue facing blacks today is deeply cultural. African American culture from the 1920’s to 1980’s was far different from what it is today, from Langston Hughes to NWA; it was more success oriented. And this was all done at a time when blacks faced far more discrimination than they do today.”
“I feel like there’s a pressure to do my hair a certain way. The precedent/norm is me with my relaxed hair, and when it gets frizzy people make comments like “oh did you get a haircut, oh your hair looks so different, oh your hair looks so cute.” And it annoys me. Do you not realize that I’m black?”
“After Puerto Rico became a commonwealth, the culture Americanized. So I think there’s a disconnect between my generation and our Hispanic roots. A lot of us don’t even speak Spanish anymore.”
“It feels like sometimes I have to pick between being black and being Haitian-American. By virtue of being American, I have to be black. I always do mention that I’m Haitian-American whenever I can. It’s nice around other Carribeans and Africans because they get what it’s like to identify with where you’re from, but I always wonder whether African-Americans will think I’m trying to reject being black.”
What do people not understand?
“A lot of times people say things they don’t actually realize may hurt someone, so I try my best to look at things with a bigger perspective. I’ve come to understand that people only reflect on what education and society have exposed them to, and it isn’t so much their fault as it is society’s.”
“I think it is often assumed that blacks can’t better themselves because of discrimination and lack of opportunity. That we have openly assumed the role of victims, and are convinced by the media, and other sources, that black culture is one that glorifies gangs and other evils.”
“I think we’re coming to a point in time where blaming individual failures on white people is a lacking excuse. On the grand scheme of things, white supremacy is the reason for society’s misconception of black people, and for that to change, white people need to engage in the conversation of what it means to be black in America.”
“People’s initial assumptions about People of Color are generally negative. You have to prove you’re “one of the good ones.””
“When it comes to affirmative action, black people have to work that much harder to prove to others that they didn’t get into a good college solely because they’re black. With white and Asian people, society generally accepts their admittance without question, but a black person is assumed to have sneaked through the system with their blackness.”
“I feel like I deal with outward racism more often than misconceptions. When I was fifteen, this old white lady accused me and “my kind” of trying to steal from her, and I was so shocked I just stayed behind and didn’t say anything.”
“My former friend inadvertently admitted he refers to black students and people using “nigger” with his other white friends, which was almost an even bigger slap to the face because his racism was happening behind my back instead of in my face.”
How do you feel the government treats you?
“I cannot judge the entirety of the police system for the horrible acts of some of their members. Though I think the system is beneficial to society, I do not think that the image it has recently portrayed is.”
“If the very system that is meant to protect us is instead prosecuting us, who are we meant to turn to?”
“I think we have to differentiate the racist from the afraid. A shooting can be out of fear. A beating… not so much. And turning off the cop car camera, or having “malfunctions” during a beating, that’s unacceptable.”
“There’s a misconception there: that blacks should be feared. You can be a law abiding citizen all you want. If a cop is going to shoot you for doing the right thing, out of fear that you aren’t, then your life really doesn’t matter.”
“At this point, it’s not even surprising to hear about police brutality anymore. Like we’ve always known it was going on. It was just a shock to have it blown up everywhere at first, at least for me. I also think it gave people someone to rally behind. After Trayvon Martin for example, people were like “I Am Trayvon Martin” and it gave black people a sense of togetherness and solidarity, I think.”
“Most of the cops are still getting off with nothing, and black people are still being shot and killed for what? Being black. And with this country’s refusal to even fully acknowledge that this is a problem, it’s not going to change anything.”
What are the upsides?
“Not seeing color. I feel like being born in such a way that do not conform to the “societal norm” made me see the world differently. To be exposed to the world past its superficial exterior and realize the truths that most do not have the opportunity of seeing”
“Upsides? No. Not really. And honestly, there shouldn’t be. The whole point of “equality” is that there are no “benefits.” I want to be treated equally. That’s what it’s all about.”
“I’m proud to be who I am, despite its downsides. I’m proud of my culture. I’m proud to be different.”
“Our food is bomb. Our music is bomb. Our dancing is bomb. I just think everything we do is so rich and complex.”
“My chicken is always seasoned.”
All artwork was done by Allegra Toran @pecheresse