Am I White Enough for You?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my roots. I grew up literally 10 minutes away from campus on Delmar Boulevard in University City. I went to the district’s public schools from pre-k to senior year, and I always had a lot of pride in my background. I loved telling people that I was part of a 10% minority being both white and upper middle class, and that over 85% of my high school was African American. I enjoyed shocking other St. Louis natives by telling them that, yes, I loved my school and, yes, you can succeed in a public high school that is constantly fighting for accreditation. I think, for some time, I also believed that I was better equipped to judge “Black America” because I was surrounded by it every day. The reality is, however, that I was living in a white bubble at a black school.
All of my best friends were white, the demographics of my advanced courses were not representative of the school as a whole, and, by being white, I was instantly accepted by some groups and rejected by others. I was treated differently by the administration; rarely did I have to show a hall pass, and I can’t remember ever being questioned about why I was leaving or entering the building. I was trusted by my teachers, and there was a certain level of expectation that I was always held to. At the time, I was confident that I had the respect of the administrators and teachers around me because I really was a good kid. I never skipped a day of school, I never drank or used drugs, and I was a very conscientious student. I’m sure that had something to do with it, but I also know it is more complicated than that. While I was given these privileges and then proved myself worthy, a lot of other kids had to earn them from scratch.
But behavior, tragically, played a huge role in the racial divide. For the past few days I haven’t been able to get this one girl, Dana Brokley out of my head. She was an attractive, black, very smart, and even more dedicated girl in the grade above me. She graduated Salutatorian of her class. We participated in a lot of the same extracurricular activities so I saw her on a regular basis. I think I always knew she struggled to find her place at our school, but I wasn’t aware how much until one day before mock trial practice I spied her crying to our coach. She explained how a group of black kids were harassing her during the day and telling her she wasn’t black enough, and that her motivation and doggedness was too “white” for them. I remember her looking devastated and confused.
Later I learned that her situation was a lot more complicated and sad. Dana had a crush on a white guy, and this fact somehow leaked onto the public arena of gossip. While we all wondered about whether or not they would “get together”, Dana must have been fighting a much more terrifying battle at home. After a few weeks we all learned that her father, a prominent man in the community who had high expectations for his daughter’s success, refused to let Dana date Mike, because he was white.
So where did Dana belong? She had been scorned by a lot of the African Americans at my high school for being “too white”, and yet was living in a home that required her to act and speak in a manner that caused her alienation. Furthermore, that same home refused to let her find refuge in the community her black peers had tossed her in. What could she do?
Dana has a younger brother that is the same year as my little sister. Today I was talking to Rachel about Dana and she mentioned that Dana’s brother was dating one of her white friends. I turned to look at her, shocked.
She read me immediately: “Anna, he doesn’t live at home.”
So where does this leave us? And where does it leave people like Dana and her brother? And how can we make it better? I don’t have answers to these questions; I don’t even know where to begin. I do think, however, that as a new generation searching for answers to hundreds of questions like abortion, terrorism, oil, globalization etc, we need to include this one. We need to keep working on the black-white divide that has plagued our nation since its conception. We need to prevent people like Dana from feeling that their skin color defines their actions and that identity is an issue of black and white.