As my elementary school years came to a close, my parents last biological daughter graduated from high school and left for nursing school. My home life was peaceful. Aside from my parents nagging me to do the chores, it was a peaceful place to be. However, at the same time, my social life was becoming more and more important.
When a Black child is raised into total racial isolation, it doesn’t seem abnormal while you are going through it. I know that I was pleased as punch when a family in our church adopted a Black baby. Even though she was my nephew’s age, and much younger than I was, her presence in my all white town and especially in my church made me feel a little less alone. I am glad that she came at this time because going into Jr. High would highlight how much my color did make a difference.
This was a time when boys and beauty become something important to girls. I could no longer be the tomboy I had been in my younger days. I wanted boys to like me and notice me. But this was an impossible dream. For the next six years of my time in Rushford, I never dated. Not because I wasn’t allowed to and not because I didn’t want to, but because no boys from my town would have ever date the Black girl. But instead of thinking there was something wrong with them, I took this to mean there was something wrong with me.
As I watched all my friend hook up and go steady, my self confidence diminished. I covered it up by reverting back to the days when people would notice me if I entertained them. So I became the clown, the jokester. It’s hard for me to write about this person, longing for a boy to ask her out- longing to be just like all her other friends. I despise this person in a way. I haven’t forgiven her for being weak and needy. This person would be who I was for several years to come. It is only a recent thing that I have gained confidence in my racial identity and how I look.
And I hate that young girl for wanting so desperately to be white and thin with long hair and blue eyes. That was what I was being told and shown was beautiful. I still had nappy hair that I couldn’t do anything with. My mother never took me to a Black salon to have my hair cared for. She never consulted Black women on how to do my hair. The irony is that she was a beautician, she owned her own shop. But considers hair a bore and projected that on me. To this day, if I am working on my daughters hair, she has commented that I should just cut it all off. Her understanding of the importance of hair to Black people was negligible. And my self identity suffered.
But as a child, what do you do? I was just happy that their son wasn’t hurting me anymore. I didn’t have to keep secrets anymore. So I became popular without being pretty. Even though, deep inside I was sad, no one who knew me back then would ever know.
I put on my happy adoptee face and went out everyday as that person. I won’t say that I was miserable yet, but misery was creeping in. Adoptees learn early on not to rock the boat. There is always a feeling deep inside that if you cause trouble, you’ll be throw away. I had been told that as well, if I told I was being hurt, if I rocked the boat, I’d get sent “back to where you came from and they never wanted you either.” So I just played my role and everyone was convinced.