The Colour of Your Character
By: Leaf Jerlefia-Rose Watson
My mother always told me that regardless of how hard I try I will never be able to satisfy everyone; Simply because a concept that excites ten people has the ability to make eight people upset. I used to think she was simply being bitter, but over the years I realized, through personal experiences, that I really cannot please everyone. At the end of the day, people will always be attracted to the negative definition of others: you are not allowed to be just Sarah, just Megan or just Nick: you’re the emo, the slut or the jerk. For so long I wasn’t allowed to be just Leaf; I was “Leaf: the black girl who “acted” white.”
I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario and I moved to Brampton when I was nine years old. Toronto was known as the most racially diverse city on the planet, so naturally I was immersed in the cultures of the lively city. My neighbourhood was not only a melting pot, but also a family of Greeks, Italians, Africans, Bulgarians and Jamaicans. It didn’t matter what colour you were; every face in my kindergarten class told a different story: one they were proud of.
I started ninth grade at a new school in Caledon, Ontario where I met a girl named Avery in my math class. She was the first friend I made at my new school and I thought it was great to find a person who I had something in common with as we both shared a love for the band The Fray. However, it was clear that she didn’t exactly share the same thinking because instead of positively acknowledging our similarities she turned to me and said, “Whoa, I didn’t think you’d like them. You’re so white.” With that, I realized I hadn’t met a new friend but rather another obliviously ignorant person who was raised to stereotype. You could only imagine my confusion and how offended I was when Avery described me as being “so white.” I was raised to judge people based upon their character and not by the colour of their skin.
Unfortunately, after that I had to face this girl five times a week and she had no shame in calling me an “Oreo” as in black on the outside, white on the inside. For the next couple of weeks, I tried to express my anger passive-aggressively by wearing baggy pants and obnoxiously playing rap music in the middle of math class. One day, Avery turned to me, frowned and then said “I didn’t think you’d like rap.” I was so confused. Hadn’t she told me the other the day I was “so white” for liking The Fray? Was I now not black enough to listen to rap music?
I didn’t know how to respond and I remember sitting on the bus wondering why some things were considered “black” and some were considered “white?” Was it my job to know what actions suited my skin colour? Are white people not allowed to listen to rap music because it’s “too black”? I just wanted to be myself without having to worry what skin colour my likes and dislikes pertained to. How could anyone expect people to improve if they allow stereotypes to degrade people?
Fortunately, my friendship with this girl dwindled over the next few years, but the problem never really went away. Sometimes, people still categorize the things I do as “white washed.” ‘You don’t eat fried chicken? White-washed. ’ ‘You don’t use a lot of slang. White. Washed.’ How could activities or likes and dislikes define the colour of my skin? Last time I checked, I was black simply because my parents were, not because I used slang. Why couldn’t people like Avery understand that I didn’t “act” white? To act is to pretend and I’m not pretending.
When I look back at that year in ninth grade math, I realize I feel more pity for Avery than I do anger. I could never imagine living in her small, sheltered, stereotypical world where all Cubans roll cigars; all Jamaicans smoke weed and all Italians are a part of the mafia. In a way, Avery sets herself up for failure in the future if she continues to listen to stereotypes; for example, if she assumes her blonde boss is a ditz and decides to explain the new company slogan in baby talk.
Stereotypes can be funny because they aren’t meant to be taken seriously, but when some people don’t understand that they use stereotypes as guidelines in their personal rulebooks rather than in their joke books. Intelligence has no skin colour and talent has no race. Labels are immature ways of categorizing people while diminishing great personalities, rendering individuals as mere cans of soup. Why do we label people? Why do we set expectations for people without having met them yet? One thing is for certain, my mother was right; I shouldn’t worry about pleasing others because I know that the colour of my skin has nothing to do with the vibrancy of my character.