Friday, July 3, 2020

Guest Blog Post by Writer Stephanie Menendez "Black American Girl"

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Guest Blog Post by Writer Stephanie Menendez
“Black American Girl”

Until I was old enough to understand, I hated my naturally red tinted hair that casted off ember ringlets in the sun. I hated it as much as my fair black skin because others hated it. I hated my hair until age thirteen when my aunt put chemicals in my hair to straighten it and it fell out. When it grew back, it was darker and coarser. Only then did I appreciate having hair regardless of color and texture. 
     My coffee skin had too much cream to be considered to be black enough by some black people but not light enough to pass for white. The tight curl pattern of my hair did not pass the white test. Children of interracial relationships were frowned upon and treated worse in the 70’s. Though my parents are black, uneducated people did not fathom the genetic possibilities that I was and will always be black not mixed, biracial or albino just simply light-skinned.
 When I was seven-year-old, I had two friends named Maria and Angela. Maria was a white girl who lived in the trailer park. Her hair always looked like it never got washed. Her skin was so dirty at times that she compared her skin to mine. Maria and her family were outcasts. Black and white people often hissed and said negative things about them. They were often called trailer trash and pissed-poor. I shared my lunch with Maria when she didn’t bring lunch and we played together whenever I chose not to jump double-dutch. Maria missed two to three days of school every week so my time was easily split between her and Angela. Angela had the perfect brown skin. Her hair was long and straight without chemicals. Her ponytails bounced and fell as she jumped between the two ropes. Angela and I were always double-dutch partners and we were good. 
     One day, we were challenged to a double-dutch tournament to prove that we were the best. Maria had been absent from school all week but returned on the day of the challenge. I told her that I could not play with her. She ran away crying and told her older sister. Her tall lanky sister from the sixth grade came and grabbed my arm while I was waiting for my turn to jump in the ropes. She spat words in my face but “nigger” was the word that turned my face red and stopped the ropes from turning. Angela’s sister was there in a flash and pushed the other older girl. I watched as the pushing escalated until Maria was accidentally knocked to the ground and screamed. I ran to her as blood dripped from her elbow.      

     I looked up and both older girls stared down at me like I was a common enemy. “It’s time for you to decide if you want to be black or white,” Angela’s sister said. I stared up at the crowd before standing slowly and backing away from Maria. I lost both friends that day as I walked to the swings and sat alone. 
     Every day, for weeks I sat alone on the swing until some boys came over and ask if I knew how to play basketball. They needed another player and they didn’t care about my skin. It didn’t matter that I was a girl as long as I could play ball. For four years, boys were my only friends. My brother and his friends became my friends. My family thought I couldn’t make friends. I never told them what happened with my friends at school and no one asked. For years into my adulthood, I avoided race-relations and tensions. I could feel it coming. I could see a potential race issue before it surfaced and if possible, left the situation or braced for the fallout.
When I was seventeen, I walked to work at a rehab facility for institutionalized teens with severe and profound mental and physical disabilities. The job paid significantly below minimum wage at three dollars an hour. Residents and staff were black, brown and white and everyone got along. I felt comfortable there but walking the three blocks to get there in a predominantly white neighborhood had challenges. I walked with my head down but always alert. There were no sidewalks but people did not want you walking on their lawns. Cars zoomed by with enough wind speed to make me sway. I took chances of running onto lawns to avoid being splashed by puddles.
     On one section of the street, a guardrail blocked cars from driving off the road into a deep ditch. I increased my walking speed to get passed it before the next car would come flying by. Then, the day came when I heard a speeding a car and yelling from the open car windows. My racial radar warned me of upcoming trouble. I ran as fast I could to get pass the guardrail and safely onto a lawn. I just made it when a red Impala sped pass, a confederate flag waving out the window, and white men yelling “pretty nigger girl.” The car stopped and drove in reverse. 
     Back in the 80’s people cared very little about women getting raped, even less if you were a black woman. When the car stopped and the three men jumped out of the car, there was not a second to wait. I ran through the forbidden lawns. I cut through yards that could have gotten me shot for trespassing. Just when I thought they were going to catch me at the fence I knew I couldn’t climb fast enough, an older white man yelled at them, “Leave that nigger girl alone.” The men spat tobacco before returning to their car. I was grateful to the old man and told him thank you. He responded by telling me to get off his lawn and go back to where I came from. My teeth chattered as I walked back to the street and thankfully, the men were gone. I went to work and told no one what happened. 
     Black, brown and white people didn’t care what happened to black people who were not black enough. I learned that at age seven and I experienced it throughout my young life. I had been called a half-breed by a white police officer at age twelve who asked me if my momma was a white nigger-lover while I waited at a bus stop with a young white man who thought I was worthy to have a conversation about weather and school. The young man’s face turned red. He avoided talking to me the following week as we waited for the same bus. I had not committed a crime. 
     I was waiting for a bus to take me to school when I had my first encounter with the police. As a young woman, I would never call them for help. I heard stories. Besides, being called a half-breed and your mother a nigger-lover, one would assume that the police only protected and served white people. As a black American girl, I was shaped and molded by the interaction from black and white people, civilians and one police officer. I don’t believe police officers are bad. I believe there are bad people and some bad people have become bad police officers. Not all racists are white. Some racists are black and dislike other black people because they have a different shade of black skin. 
     I don’t identify myself as an African American. I identify as Black American. I am not denouncing my African heritage or the enslavement of my ancestors. I am simply acknowledging that I don’t have any other African connection other than my skin. According to my brother’s ancestry DNA results, I have other nationalities in my breeding as well but I don’t identify as being white, Irish or Scottish. I am black in skin, culturally black and born in America. I am a Black American girl who became a Black American woman.

Stephanie Menendez has published work, Zombie Hand in Splickety Havok Magazine October 2015 edition. She is an active member in writing groups, Scribes for Praise in O’Fallon, IL and Plethora of Pens in Glen Carbon, IL. 

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