AFRO-DOMINICAN RACIALIZED IN SOUTH AFRICA
Series 1: Revealing untold parts of myself that I didn’t know
The waiter that was serving us could have been my distant cousin; she could have been my sister; she even could have been me.
And as I sat there, surrounded by white privileged bodies, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she thought about me. Maybe she asked herself why is this brown curly headed girl with these three white people who look nothing like her. If she were to ever ask me, I would have told her that I was doing a favor to a white man who got my trip funded. I also would have told her that my life has always been about accommodating white people so they can help me get to where I am now. I would have told her sorry; I would have told her that life is not fair. But I didn’t say anything because she never asked, not even on my way to the bathroom where the freedom to say anything was unrestricted. I saw it on her face. I think she saw it on my face too.
They asked for her name. Her name was rare so they asked about the meaning: “Don’t tell me that your mother gave it to you, I will not accept that story!” She said her name was what it was—no complex or difficult story. He then proceed into the stereotyping of names and I just stopped listening after that. I bet she gets people like him all the time, or maybe most of the white people who come here don’t even acknowledge her presence–she probably gets more of those.
I realized, as I was conversing and mostly listening to the other white people speak, that I have been trying to perfect how to interact with white people.
How do I relate to them without imposing my own culture and ideologies?
How do I not seem too different?
How do I develop a likeable persona that would allow them to erase all negative stereotypes of brown bodies (I might just be the “exception”)?
How do I give in without giving myself?
I am the first person in my family to do a lot of shit and because of that, I will always be grateful to the white people who structurally helped me to get here. I would continue to love them, to cherish their presence, treat them like family and be their little brown kid. But I have to figure out a way to do that while also becoming this person of fight and strength. I mean real fight and strength. I need to learn how to speak up when something is said, and not just comment, but provide facts. I need to learn how to not be that “good” kid from the hood. I need to learn how to love myself separate from the things I have accomplished. Because although white people have structurally helped me to get where I am at, my people—my people of color—have moved me to make it this far. They give me all the fight that I have inside of me. They are my possibility. They are me and I am them.
During my time in Cape Town, I have experienced uncomfortably where I had to question who I was and what I stood for. I have had to realize my own prejudices and unconscious biases; I have had to lie about my feelings just so people won’t look at me different; I have had to validate my “hoodness” and “blackness” **well most time I felt like I had to because I don’t look “really” black or look “really” hood**. However, regardless of these uncomfortable situations, I have been able to open my mind for shaping. I have evaluated my own ideologies and adopted new ones. I have learned that being myself is fucking hard when there is a world telling me how I ought to be.
Especially for those of us who look different, who look ambiguous, who look like we can be anything but white. And it is this spectrum of ambiguity that doesn’t allow us to fit in; we’re always stuck in the middle. I am always stuck in the middle. Never black enough nor white enough; never proper but never improper; never too intelligent but also never stupid; never extremely beautiful but always pretty enough; never too radical but never too quiet. And my life has always been on this balance, trying to figure out where should I stand, how I should stand and with who. I think I came to cape town, expecting to change, but I have realized that change is lifelong. It goes beyond the time spent abroad, I think change needs to come from where you are from with the people who grew up with you and love you. Change is a funny thing, but its also beautiful.
In this year’s Latino Heritage Month (LPM), I want to highlight that identity (aka life) is an ongoing thing. We theme LPM every year as if something is bound to dramatically change within the Latino community or how the “others” view “us”. And I think we are meant to believe that something will change because it is easier to believe that the world wants us than that it doesn’t. It is not our fault that we have hope; that we have fight; that we believe in the good of the world. But I think that as the years continue, we must take LPM as an ongoing process; as a time that we acknowledge our people, fight for our people and stand up for our people. We need to stop lying to ourselves. We are fucking complacent people. We have allowed the white man to lie to us. We have allowed him to place us in “prestigious” positions and treat us as “one” of them. And we fell into this trap; we fell into the trap of whiteness. I fell into the trap of whiteness. I fell so fucking hard. But I did that because I believed that I had something to give, that I had something to offer. I also wanted to respect the white people who structurally helped me to get where I am now. From being in the Girl Scouts, to Upward Bound, to college, to the scholarships, to the motivational conversations and to the long term friendships. All of these things have given me so much to be grateful for; it has allowed me to look at my life and think how beautiful it has been regardless of the bad times.
White people structurally helped me to get here, therefore I must be obedient, I must not overstep my boundaries, I must not be that overly radical brown kid who gets arrested for protesting; I must not act out, I must always be Shannel–the good kid from the hood who was able to make it out because she’s just one of the good kids from the hood.
But fuck that – let us believe in the power of liberation; let us be revolutionary; let us be art; LET US BE HUMANS.
This series will be a continuation of self-growth and reflection. I might say shit the people don’t like but this is my life, my experience. I will later on explain the concept of “peeled” which was birthed by one of my good friends here. He inspired me to write these series about people. I don’t want this series to be about theory because that’s white people shit. We are not theoretical bodies; we are alive and therefore, our stories should be alive. Please join me on this journey. Peace to you, peace to the hood; peace to those who believe in liberation.
**to the white people who love me, please do not take offense to this. I cannot apologize for the way I feel. This should be expected. I will always love you.
* Creator of the PEELED series *
Shannel is a dope ass girl who studies Sociology, Pre-law and African American Studies at Montclair State University in jersey. She was born in Washington Heights but had to move to Paterson, NJ at a young age. Side note: if ya ever seen Lean On Me, that’s the high school she graduated from. Since Shannel was noted as one of the “good potential students”, she received many opportunities which others did not. Because of this, she makes sure to always provide resources and opportunities for other people. You always have to pay it forward.
When she read Michelle Alexander book, The New Jim Crow, she started her journey of identity and figuring out the truth about oppressed people. On campus, she sits on a few executive positions for student organizations where she has made it her mission to unite black and brown people; and most definitely teach her brown sisters and brothers about their african roots.
Shannel is currently a research assistant for her sociology professor which she aspires to earn her doctorate in Sociology and become a professor. She wants to continue spreading hidden information to students, and wants to also spread the knowledge to the hood. On her free time, Shannel enjoys painting, writing, analyzing hip hop beats and just enjoying the company of her friends.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org