The Black Sheep

For my entire life (minus 4.5 years but we’ll get back to that later), I’ve LOVED school. I really enjoy structure and finite boundaries and school was the place where I always knew exactly what was expected of me. So the first couple of weeks of school were always my favorite. I got to use my new pencils and my color-coded notebooks. My teachers would spend a lot of time talking about the expectations for the remainder of the school year.

By the time September came around, my excitement began to fade. I started to see some… differences between my old and new communities.

I’m Black.

In elementary and middle school, I didn’t feel ‘Black’ enough for the Black kids. To them, I spoke and acted like ‘a White person.’ Which to this day I think is stupid, because none of them spoke like the stereotypical Black person. I also had very different life experiences from a lot of them. I was quite sheltered while other kids were given more freedom to explore the world. And when I say sheltered, I mean SUPER sheltered. Like there was never a point in time in which an adult was less than 10 ft away. So sheltered I thought “margarita” was the name of a drug. No joke.

But I now understand that some of these kids didn’t have the luxury to be oblivious to the world around them. They knew what it felt like to be Black in America. At that time, being Black to me was just a fact, similar to my height or the size shoe I wore. It’s just something that was, but nothing that I really thought about. And no one, to my knowledge, had ever treated me differently because I was Black. But that changed after the murder of Trayvon Martin in early 2012. It was the first time I learned some people hate others based on something they can’t control.

Side Note: Which still doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s like hating everyone that's a size 9 in shoes. Nobody tells their feet when to stop growing. Just like no one chooses what race they will be.

After my newly found awareness of what it meant to be Black, starting at a predominantly White high school was, admittedly, terrifying. By the time I graduated from elementary/middle school, 80-90% of the population was non-White. At my high school, I was one of MAYBE 30 BIPOC (Black, Indengionius, and People of Color) out of the 500 students there. And that was on a really good year. But to top it all off, for the majority of the time, I was the only Black girl in my grade. I assumed, and feared, that there were going to be tons of people that just hated me based on what I looked like. Now in retrospect, the majority of the kids were quite nice to me. I’m quite sure I could have been friends with just about everyone. But I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t sure who I could trust or who was calling me names behind my back.

I’m not Catholic

I went to a Catholic school for the first half of kindergarten. I have bits and pieces of memories from there, but being 5, it was none of the important things. So there was a big culture shock the first couple of months. The first was having a class specifically dedicated to teaching students Catholicism. So every day for the four years of high school, I learned something about the Catholic faith. The second was how my peers and teachers referred to Catholicism as “the faith” as if it was the only one that people believed. A lot of students went to Catholic school from K-12 with roughly the same 20 people. They hung out with their classmates on the weekends and went to church with them on Sunday. So I understand how it’s a normal statement if everyone in your circle believes the same thing. Regardless, I always found it interesting that they referred to it that way, rather than just saying Catholicism.

The third and most drastic difference between Catholicism and the non-denominational church I grew up in. My church services were relatively simple. We sang for about 30 minutes and then sat down. If it was the first Sunday of the month we took communion, but most times we listened to the pastor preach for 40 minutes and left. Mass, or church for Catholics, was much more intense. The service began with a song and was followed by what felt like a 1.5-hour aerobic exercise. We would all stand for what felt like forever, sit, then stand, then sit, stand once again, and sit, and stand, and then we kneel, then we stand (this isn’t an exaggeration). Then row by row people would walk to the front to take communion, come back and kneel, to sit again, followed by more standing, and THEN we were done. Throughout the service, there were phrases and prayers everyone recited by heart in absolutely perfect unison. Which scared me the first couple of times as my Church never did that.

Considering 99% of the population was Catholic, I definitely felt like an outsider during Mass. Specifically during communion. Non-Catholics were not allowed to partake in the communion so we had the option of walking to the front for a blessing or staying in our seats. I chose to stay in my seat as it was more convenient. But both options felt extremely vulnerable as if someone was yelling “HEY! WE FOUND A FAKER OVER HERE!” In all actuality, no one really cared all that much. But to me, it was another obvious way I was different.

Side note: As I said before, I don’t mind the spotlight when I turn it on myself. But I do mind not being able to blend into the crowd if I wanted to. You could always spot my melanin skin on the other side of the building. And even if I did walk to the front of the cathedral with all my classmates, I would still have to signal to the priest in front of me, “Hey, I’m not like everyone else.” I didn’t want to be like everyone else, I just wished there were more like me.

The gang’s all here

By this time I had made friends with some cheerleaders (Chloe and Alicia; all names are fake btw) and some of my classmates (Christina and Mary). My school was large enough to have TWO lunch periods (I know, super cool), and ALL my friends were in second lunch. Yours truly was in first. No big deal, right? Just make new friends. Well, if you've noticed anything in these past few blogs, you’ve probably noticed I was not too fond of change or new experiences, or new people. So I did the exact opposite. I hid.

I would heat my food up in the lunchroom and promptly walk around the corner to eat lunch by myself in the hallway outside the gym. Some days I would get caught and would be forced to go in the lunchroom (AKA hide in the bathroom or locker room until lunch was over). Other days there would be a group of students sitting in MY un-assigned assigned hideout corner, so I would have to walk right out their eyesight to sit by myself. I remember meeting Vanessa, a girl from my class who was a part of the spot-stealing group, in one of my classes. She would always say hi when she saw me and invited me to sit with her and her friends. And I did, occasionally. But I would talk directly to her because one new person was enough.

To the girl who thought she never could…

You were always so worried about other people not accepting your differences that you isolated yourself so they wouldn’t have the chance (this is called a ~defense mechanism~). You were so scared that someone may not like you or would say something to you, specifically, because you are Black. And you were afraid that your peers would think less of you because you weren’t Catholic (although there may be a little truth in that one). Regardless, you never gave yourself the opportunity to make new friends nor did you give people the opportunity to show you what wonderful people they were.

Fear doesn’t get you anywhere. I know it’s scary and uncomfortable and intimidating to take that first step out of your comfort zone, but you’ll never regret it. That step will turn into a blessing you can rejoice in or a lesson to make you better. Plus, the people who would judge you or consider you less than because of what you look like or what you believe aren’t people you want to be friends with. Find people that will embrace your differences and challenge your weaknesses.

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