Mykal-Michele Longino: Student Voices Speech / by Academy Monthly

When I was 5 I didn’t know I was black. I know it sounds silly….but....for a long time I just didn’t know. I knew my skin was darker, and my hair was curlier, but if you were a little girl who only ever went to school with predominantly white kids who... would never be as dark as you, what would you think? I….didn’t know what to think, but I now know for a fact that my Pre-K brain was not advanced enough to handle the confusion that came along with identity. To me, my hair was no different than the rest of my friends and even though I wore my hair in braids more than they did... and I couldn’t jump into the pool without a swim cap on...nobody had given me a reason to b made me uncomfortable. I also started to realize how often these microaggressions, or these subtle slights were taking place. Like when I was 12 and my teacher, singled me out in front of the class just to say “You should think about doing the Kwanzaa presentation at the holiday assembly because “you would be perfect...” What do even do with that? I should have said no, because it was and still is offensive to assume a person celebrates Kwanzaa just because they’re black, but I said okay sure, because I wasn’t confident enough to question an adult, let alone a teachers judgement. In 7th grade, I skipped a week of school because I couldn’t handle our in-depth study of the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t the content, it was the stares. I didn’t like sitting in the back of the class with my head down every time the movie said the n word, and I didn’t like having to explain why I cried every time we talked about Bloody Sunday. And, this experience of being the only wasn’t exclusive to the classroom…. Literally last year at a cheer competition my MALE coach screamed in front of my entire team, “mykal-michele just because you’re black doesn’t mean you can wear a black bra under your uniform,” because I guess me not looking like everyone else bothered him….which is ironic because, again, I was the only black girl on the team. (so the not looking like everyone else thing still confuses me) Now, I’m 18 and I know I’m black. After my parents and I spent a few years watching every episode of That’s So Raven, and The Proud Family , I started to realize how important representation is. Looking back, I needed to see myself in these characters in order to realize that different versions of blackness exist. And them showing me positive examples of black females in similar positions as me made me realize...it’s cool to be black. Since entering Upper School, I have new black peers to identify with, finally I’m not the only black girl in the grade... but as I’ve gotten older and started to interact with more people like me, I began to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. What I mean by this is that I’m a black girl who was born in California, and now lives in Doylestown where the black population is 4 percent, and so because my experience is different then alot my black peers, I get judged. I’ve been told I “speak white,” my hair is too long and my skin to light to be, and I quote “full black.” Basically I’m not black enough. When people would make these remarks about me, it felt like I was back in Lower School, but the aggressors changed. For a while I let these comments affect me….I let them “revoke my black card.” ….but I eventually realized that there is no such thing as a black card. Nobody can tell me what being black is supposed to be, because it doesn’t have to be one thing. And so I’m not up here to rant or to complain about my circumstances, because I feel like I wouldnt be the person I am today without these experiences. Defending myself on both ends of the spectrum has taught me more about who I am as a person, and has helped me develop my own identity. I am comfortable defining my blackness on my own terms, and have learned to embrace my identity. And while my school has stayed the same, I have changed the way I view myself in it. In a way, I am thankful for those past experiences, because they have taught me how to overcome adversity and to remain true to who I am. And even though my blackness is a big part of who I am, it does not define me. I spent so much time caring about what other people thought and changing and watering myself down in order to fit into a mold I thought would make me more likeable. But I now know that I am under no obligation to make sense to anyone, other than myself. As I said, I am only 18, and so nothing about my life “makes sense” to me yet, but in the 18 years I have been on this earth I have realized that it’s hard to be yourself. It’s not as simple as waking up and making these decisions, I think so many times we ignore these boundaries that we all face as people everyday, whether it's the boundary of what your family tells you to be, or what society tells you to be, or what school tells you to be. It forces us to wonder, how does one become their authentic self within the process of living within whatever society is telling us to be? And so for me, as I enter a new community for the next four years I hope to take what I have learned with me, and continue on my journey of finding myself. I think at the end of the day everybody's dream is to achieve some level of success. But the one thing I have learned over the course of my time here at GA is that success doesn’t necessarily come with being your most authentic self, success comes with the process of at least trying to be.