Hailing from Philly, Mkyal-Michelle has always had an interest in poetry and writing. Here are two pieces she wrote this year as she sought out to become more in touch with her African-American identity. Thank you for your submission Mykal and good luck at Spelman next year!
I Didn’t Know I Was Black
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 a bunch of white kids who would never be as dark as you, what would you think? I know for a fact my pre-K brain wasn’t advanced enough to handle the confusion that came along with identity. To me, my hair was no different than Rachels, and, sure, I wore my hair in braids more than she did, but if Rachel could jump in the pool without a swim cap on, then why couldn’t I?
I didn’t see a difference.
You would think being the only black girl in a grade of 130 would be a challenge, but for me, it wasn’t. At least, not initially. It took me until 5th grade when my history teacher pulled me out of class to ask, “As the only colored person in the room, what do you think about how our study of slavery is going?” It took me a minute. First, to process the fact that I really was the only black person in the room. And second, to process the fact that this man just called me colored. I started to question myself. All of a sudden, I started to realize how lonely I was.
Being the only black girl in the grade started to affect me because I had no one to talk to when situations made me uncomfortable. As a 12-year-old girl, when your teacher asks in front of the class if you would make the Kwanzaa presentation at the holiday assembly because “you would be perfect,” what would you do? Would you say no, because it’s offensive to assume a person celebrates Kwanzaa just because they’re black? Or would you, like me, say yes because you don’t want to make a scene?
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. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me.
Now, I know I’m black. I know I’m different. After my parents spent a few years making me watch every episode of That’s So Raven, and The Proud Family, I started to realize how important representation is. Them showing me positive examples of black females in similar positions made me realize…it’s cool to be black.
Since entering Upper School, I have new black peers to identify with, but along with new faces came some new challenges too. Some of them judge me. My skin is too light, my hair’s too long, and I don’t speak how I’m “supposed to.” I’m not black enough. When people make these remarks about me, it feels like I’m back in Lower School. They’re making assumptions about what they think “black” is supposed to be. But why does black have to be one thing?
Defending myself on both ends of the spectrum has taught me more about who I am as a person. I am comfortable defining my blackness on my own terms. I have learned to embrace my identity. My school has stayed the same, but I have changed the way I view myself in it. In a way, I am thankful for those past experiences, because it has taught me how to overcome adversity and to remain true to who I am. My blackness does not define me, and I now know that I am under no obligation to make sense to anyone, other than myself.
I am an intellectual
But I’m not supposed to be.
I think that I am beautiful,
But I am not supposed to think
I think about life
What can I be?
What am I allowed to be?
What am I expected to be?
Mama says I can do all that I put my mind too,
But I am supposed to stay away from distractions
“Stay out of the way”
Girls like me are not supposed to find their way
You are allowed to be anything you want to be
In a society that oppresses the black girl trying to be somebody
I challenge you to be somebody
Be so good they’ll have no choice but to watch in awe.
Be so passionate that they can’t help but feel your pain
Make them understand
Understand that you are a light in an otherwise somber existence
Let your melanin be your light
I am naturally me
My hair curls so tight
They’ll make anyone spiral into confusion
Confusion is okay
It is okay to not know who you are
Identity is Americas greatest query
Assimilation is America’s worst past time
You owe them nothing
You owe yourself everything
You read you write, you fight
Because you can be everything they say you can’t
Opportunity waits for no man,
So you step up and be a woman
Life will try and push you down
But you rise above
You set the tone
Be so good they can’t ignore you
You are intelligent
You are my sister