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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Too white, too black: Growing up in the middle ground

Growing up biracial can breed years of bitterness and anger
Sascha Harvey

I first realized I was different in kindergarten, though the reality of it didn’t hit until second grade. 

Growing up, there was always a subtle thought that I was different from my white grandparents but it was never a big deal to me, I loved them and they loved me. That’s what mattered in my little mind. 

One of my earliest experiences is one I don’t remember, but was told about when I got older. I was about four and ran out into the street to greet my great grandmother. Not paying attention, I was almost hit by a car. The woman in the car got out and started screaming at my aunt and grandma about how they “need to control their half-breed niglet.” 

Thinking about it today, I can still hear the anger in my grandma’s voice as if it only happened yesterday for her. Despite me not remembering it firsthand, I can still feel the pang of hurt that someone would react like that to a child. 

It wasn’t until I got into school that my eyes opened and I saw the different races around me. I noticed that there weren’t very many people who looked like me, but I never let it bother me. 

The unbothered energy I tried to keep didn’t last long, as my classmates soon became openly  hurtful. I heard so many snide comments about how nappy my hair was, and how oily it felt to the touch. I was bombarded with questions about why I couldn’t go swimming without heavy preparations for my hair and about why I cared so much about dirt getting into it. No one around me understood that it wasn’t as easy to wash my hair as it was theirs. They didn’t know or care that it took me hours to do my hair, between washing and styling. 

A true moment of hurt came when someone who I thought was my friend spit in my hair and then threw sand at me, getting into the curly mess on my head. 

Hearing these comments and dealing with these actions, I retreated into my mind where I thought nothing could hurt me. But my own thoughts were traitorous, as I kept hearing and seeing those things on repeat. 

Even those with “good” intentions were harmful in their actions. One of my grandparents’ friends constantly rubbed my hair for good luck, and I never realized until I was older that I hated that and it felt dehumanizing. 

I had finally realized that race was real, and that a lot of people around me let it lead their lives. It was then that the thoughts that I was too white to be part of the Black community and too Black to fully fit into the white community started to plague me. I was left floating aimlessly, with no real identity to hold me down. 

I cried and asked several times why I was this way, why I couldn’t just be white or Black, why I had to be some sort of middle ground. People in the Black community told me that I could only celebrate half of Black history month or only say half of the n-word. I laughed these comments off as jokes but deep down they really hurt. 

I felt alienated from the Black community. Since the majority of the family I saw regularly was white, I felt myself conforming and losing an essential part of my identity, a part that stayed buried for years. I forcibly alienated myself in an attempt to keep myself from getting hurt.

I permanently straightened my hair, and kept it that way for the better part of six years, almost irreparably ruining my natural curls. But straightening my hair was my way of conforming to the white side in a desperate hope that I would fit in and not be different. 

But no matter how straight my hair was, my skin was still brown and I was still the literal Back sheep in my family. Whenever we were in public, looks and stares followed us around, as if the public couldn’t fathom that my grandparents were actually my family. Several times I was asked if I was adopted “because there’s no way a white family can give birth to someone with brown skin.” The idea of being biracial was foreign to so many people. 

It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I felt fully confident in reconnecting to my Black identity. 

My paternal grandmother helped me tremendously in reconnecting with this part of myself. She taught me about where our family came from, using inclusive language. The impact of hearing “our family” is something that I cannot describe after years of alienating myself. She taught me about our family religion, sending me gifts upon gifts of the things I missed out on over the years. 

After growing my hair back out in a healthy manner, I decided that I wanted to go through the process of locing my hair. I felt it would help me feel further connected to my heritage.

Since I’ve been in college, I’ve learned so much more about my culture, even writing a full research paper on my family’s religion, the Yourba faith of Nigeria. 

But no matter how much I learn and reconnect myself to the lost part of my identity, I still carry those years of shame, hurt and isolation. The years of “light-hearted ribbing” have stuck with me. Every once in a while, I still hear that little voice telling me that I don’t fit in, that I’m too white to be Black and too Black to be white. But I’ve learned to tune that voice out, because I’m not just Black or white, I’m both. I carry both cultures with me and there’s no shame in that. It just took some time for me to learn that. 

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About the Contributors
Maleah Evans
Maleah Evans, Reporter
Maleah Evans is a second-year reporter for The Sunflower. They previously worked as a copy editor. Evans is a sophomore, majoring in history with a minor in anthropology. They plan to pursue a career as a museum curator.
Sascha Harvey
Sascha Harvey, Opinion Editor
Sascha Harvey is the opinon editor for The Sunflower. A junior majoring in graphic design, this is Harvey's third year on staff and second year as a section editor. He is originally from Arkansas but has no accent to speak of (unless you listen really hard). The graphic design major enjoys covering feature stories and local news. Harvey uses he/him pronouns.

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