I never understood what it was like to be black even though my father was indeed black. My mother though, was white. Blonde hair, blue eyes, Eurocentric features, small frame... just an overall aesthetically beautiful woman. Me on the other hand, I had grown to have wide hips, light brown skin, a wide nose, and thick long hair. I knew that I was different from my mother, but I was also different from my dad... well, not as different. I mean I didn't have dark brown skin like he did but my nose was wider like his and my eyes were brown like his. My hair was not coarse like his though. At the age of 14 I asked my parents "what am I?" And they just said, "you're our beautiful baby girl, we love you Zoey".
I never understood what it was like to be black until my white friends had these awkward moments and odd questions they asked me. "So like, what are you?" They would say and to tell you the truth at that moment I wasn't sure. I never had these conversations with my family so I just shrugged my shoulders and pretended like I was unbothered. It wasn't even the question that bothered me; it was the fact that I didn't have the answer. Then there were the questions about my hair. "Why is it so uh... thick?" They were so odd and it was obvious that they didn't want to say nappy because they didn't want to offend me. At one point they just started saying "you're not ghetto like the other ones, it's like you're really white". For some reason I started to feel comfortable... more adjusted like I finally fit in. I didn't care about skin color; in fact I didn't even see it.
I never understood what it was like to be black even after our new neighbors moved in next door. I remember the first time I met Kenzie. I was outside talking to my best friends at the time, Sarah and Chris and Kenzie was coming back from walking her dog. We all stared at Kenzie, but how could you not? She had beautiful dark skin, brown eyes, small frame, but still some curves, and a thick Afro like I've never seen before. I honestly thought she was beautiful, but I don't think my friends were looking at her for the same reason. They started pointing at her hair and then they looked at me. They looked at me and they didn't say anything.
"I've never seen hair like that," Chris finally said.
"Yeah me neither," I replied.
Sarah started laughing, but I wasn't sure why. I guess I didn't get the joke.
"Is it a wig? Like what is that?" Sarah continued to laugh.
Chris laughed along with Sarah. I locked eyes with Kenzie as she watched them laugh at her and I let them. Kenzie looked away and walked inside her house. Chris and Sarah laughed harder and I still couldn't say anything, so I just went inside. I didn't even say goodbye. Chris and Sarah finally stopped joking around to notice that I had left them sitting on my front porch.
I never understood what it was like to be black, even on the first day of high school when the student body was almost 100 percent white. I walked into my homeroom and sat with Sarah; Chris had a different homeroom than us. Kenzie walked in soon after I did. She wore a hoodie that day, even though it was hot outside. The large hood was covering her head and half of her face… she was nervous. I waved to her to come sit by us, but she looked away and sat in the back of the class. Sarah asked me what was wrong with her. I thought, maybe she felt uncomfortable after yesterday when they laughed at her, but I didn’t say anything to Sarah; I just shrugged. Our homeroom teacher walked in and told everyone to remove our hats… and hoods. Kenzie slowly removed her hood and kept her head down.
After class I waited for Kenzie to walk out and I told Sarah that I would catch up with her later; she had a different class anyway. I called after Kenzie as she walked past me, but she didn’t stop, she kept walking.
“Kenzie! Wait up,” I rushed after her.
She finally stopped, “What?!”
“I was just going to ask if what class you had next… I’m Zoey.”
“I know who you are… listen I’m not really interested in making friends.”
“We don’t have to be… I just want to see if we had next class together.” I showed Kenzie my schedule and she was hesitant at first, but she showed me hers as well. Ironically, Kenzie and I had all of the same classes.
I never understood what it was like to be black, even when Sarah and Chris stopped talking to me when Kenzie and I became close. I started to feel like I was different, not because Kenzie was a dark skin black girl, but because she was an outcast. Being completely oblivious to racial issues, I didn’t take it personally; things were different for Kenzie.
I never understood what it was like to be black, but Kenzie did. Our sophomore year of high school came around and Kenzie was shameless in wearing her large Afro and showing off her beautiful skin, until that day.
Kenzie and I walked into the girls bathroom to Sarah and her new friends staring in the mirror. I said hi to Sarah, but she just turned around and laughed. She looked at Kenzie and said, “You know, I have always liked your hair”. One of Sarah’s friends looked at Kenzie through the mirror then laughed, and I couldn’t believe that I still could not say anything. Kenzie walked into one of the open stalls and she just cried and cried as they laughed at her. I knocked on the stall a few times until she opened the stall and pulled me in. She was hurt I could tell, but it was more than the comments about her hair.
“I can’t believe Zoey is friends with that nigger, I guess she is a nigger too now.” Kenzie read as she sobbed. She pointed to the inside of the stall. “Her skin is so weird, I have never seen an actual human so dark and what is up with that hair?” I cringed. Kenzie fell to the floor and I tried to help, I did. She told me to go away and that she didn’t want to speak to me anymore.
Kenzie walked into class the next day with her hood on her head, the same way she wore it our first day of freshman year. What surprised me was the fact that she sat by me in class as if nothing happened; then removed her hood. I stared at her confused, but she just looked at me and smiled. Kenzie completely removed her hoodie and had on a long sleeve shirt underneath and it was extremely hot that day. Her sleeve came up slightly, revealing cuts on her wrist; I immediately turned my head away, facing the front of the room. Kenzie pulled down her sleeve, I could feel her staring at me; possibly waiting for me to say something about her arm, but as usual I didn’t say anything.
Kenzie invited me to her house after school that day, but I wasn’t sure why she would even want me to be around her. She still acted like yesterday was a figment of her imagination, like she was perfectly fine, but I knew that she wasn’t. We were sitting on her bed when I asked her if she was ok, and she said she was fine.
“I know you’re upset with me Kenzie, and I saw the cuts on your arms.”
“You wouldn’t even understand Zoey, my parents wouldn’t even take this seriously. They would kill me for harming myself. Please don’t tell anyone”.
I just shook my head, and of course I didn’t say anything else.
Kenzie and I decided to go for a walk in our neighborhood; it was a beautiful evening. Neighbors were walking their dogs and there were people just coming home from work. We came to an intersection right just before the hill in our neighborhood; there weren’t any cars coming for a while, so Kenzie said. Kenzie walked across the street slowly; she spun around and lifted her head to the sky.
I walked past her smiling, “Come on Kenzie”.
“I think right here is just fine,” She smiled at me. “I hope to see you again someday”.
“Kenzie what are you doing? Get out of the street!”
“It’s time for you to suffer now”.
The truck came fast and just before it could slow down, it hit Kenzie and I saw it. I saw my best friend die and I then felt the pain and suffering that she once felt. I never understood what it was like to be black, but Kenzie did. Constantly dealing with racism from the kids at school caused her to self-harm and I never spoke up until it was too late.