"The “Alternative Black Girl” Experience," Elenna Geffrard
My first encounter with race was when I was nine years old in the fourth grade. I knew that people were different from me because of their upbringing, cultural customs and the dynamics between parent and child. But I never thought that race was such a big deal because of it.
It was the first day of school and we were lining up in the schoolyard waiting for our teacher to pick us up. There was a new boy in my class who I’ve never seen before and was eager to introduce myself. He had really deep brown eyes and curly brown hair. I introduced myself and he did the same (we’ll refer to him as K for now). We talked a bit and had a few things in common: we liked video games, we had a younger sibling who happened to be in the same first grade class and our parents were immigrants (his family was from the former Yugoslavia and mine are from Haiti).
During that time, my father was a stay at home dad. He always took my younger brother and I to school and then came back when we needed to be picked up. He was there to witness when I shook K’s hand. As soon as he saw the interaction, I got yelled at all because of an action I thought was friendly. This happened fifteen years ago, but I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he did say (in Kreyol) “Don’t you dare touch that white boy.”
It always amazed me to this day that I try to see the light in situations like these, but to others it could be an eyesore. Just by making a new friend was enough to see the prejudice that my dad had for white people. I didn’t want that in my own life. Although I wanted to dearly be K’s friend, that sole encounter was the only memory I have of him.
Outside of my first encounter with racial tension, I’ve always stuck out as a sore thumb as a child: parents were older than my peers (my parents are currently in their mid to late sixties: baby boomers), I was always at the top of my class because all my parents wanted for me was to have a great education and stay out the hood and away from any negative associations that Black people had.
Though I was excelling in school, I wasn’t excelling in social adeptness. I didn’t really get along with students in my classes because they felt that I was above them or I was too much of a “goody two shoes.” To make matters worse in their eyes, I didn’t fit in because I didn’t know about a lot of things in Black culture like music or the latest dance craze – let alone if I attempted to do a dance I’d be labeled as “not knowing how to dance” (and this is coming from someone who was classically trained in ballet from ages five to thirteen). The word “Oreo” was now in my countless list of nicknames I can say that I was given in my K through twelve tenure.
Oreos went from being my favorite cookies to being a term that I’ve grown to dislike. When I was called an “Oreo” when I was in elementary school, I thought nothing of it, only to realize what it really meant in today’s coded language “a white person in a black person’s body.” I knew fully well that I was Black. It’s just hearing from my peers that speaking in proper English, liking anime and manga and even listening to rock music was deemed as “stuff that white people do.”
Let me tell you all one thing.
Just because I like some things in nerd culture, do not know the lyrics or famous lines in Black movies, like rock music or sing in other languages aside from English and my own mother’s tongue does not make me any less Black.
Once again for the people out back.
I am just as Black as the next Black person. I just have a different niche of interests. Being Black is a spectrum: just like our skin colors are endless, our nation of origin, beliefs, orientation, so are our experiences.
I may not know that many songs or the names of newer rappers or even the names of their songs, but one thing I do know is where I came from. I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants who came to give my siblings and me a better life than their own. I know about the history that my parents have engraved into me since childhood. I speak my mother’s tongue, even if I do flip back and forth between Kreyol and English. I know that at the end of the day, I’m Black. I know at the end of the day, both white and non-white people would only see me as a Black person, despite my interests and education. I am an alternative Black girl and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way because I want to live my own truth and experience.
About the art:
This piece was fairly simple to create, because Elenna gave me a wonderful idea of having themselves sitting surrounded by anime and manga - and although I know nothing about either of those things, I did my best to try and represent that image.
I hope Elenna can hang this up as a reminder that their interests need not be defined by the color of their skin.