The hallways haven’t changed. They still remain populated by the same couples — the ones that are hugging right as the bell rings as though some massive storm will hit, keeping them apart for years until they find each other again, the ones that whisper “I love you” over and over to the point that the mantra seems so ingrained, so simple, so it stings even more that you have never heard it.
Yes, everything’s the same about these couples. Including the color of their skin.
African American girls remain at the bottom of the high school dating totem pole.
Our hair isn’t natural and when it is, it’s too big and kinky. Alright, buy a weave. Sit in a chair for five hours getting your hair braided into long extensions or tight twists — all that work, just to get asked “Is that your real hair?” the very next day.
Our skin is too dark. Media plagues us with the false sense of social acceptance when we see beautiful darked-skinned celebrities coming to the forefront of media. Lupita Nyong’o, Normani, Duckie Thot are all hailed, warranting the “yes queen’s” and “black girl magic” triumphs.
But, in reality, conversations in the building sound more like: “Do you think she’s cute?” To which they boy with saggy jeans, Jordan’s and an accent — that doesn’t quite match growing up in the suburbs of Oswego — responds, “Who, the darkie?”
We’ve heard it all. That we’re queens, that we’re powerful, that we’re strong. But the only reason why those traits have been associated with us is due to the fact that we have to be. You can’t be weak after being told that you sound “ratchet” when your voice is raised. You can’t be weak after staring at yourself in the mirror in the morning, ensuring that every lick of lotion is on your skin and not a single one of your tracks are showing because you already know too well what people will say if you’re not on point. You can’t be weak after facing constant rejection due to the color of your skin.
Queens? I’ve never felt worthy of a crown. And I know damn well that the secrets I’m sitting on don’t amount to a throne.
Now, as a senior, the other queens and I in the building are beginning to have no choice but to look forward to our college days. A new demographic, a new environment in which we have a better chance of getting looked at twice, maybe even asked out.
However, what I have come to realize over the course of the year is not necessarily the faultiness of the absence of dating experience and what that means for our future, but the faultiness of a high school experience in itself.
Homecoming passed by and our Instagram and Snapchat feeds were filled with pictures of cute proposals, couples leaning into each other accompanied by cheesy captions underneath and comments gushing over how they’re “literally the cutest.” I felt an absence.
As I’m reflecting on my experiences in relation to the dance, every single year consisted of attending a group with my girl friends. Not once did I, nor my fellow queens, have a king to accompany us, to write a proposal that he spent all night crafting — or googling punny phrases the day before.
The issue resides deeper than just not having proper relationship experience before college, but missing out on portions of high school in its entirety.
The royal court
At least we can stand together in solidarity. At least we can come together to make our own experiences and memories, as unfortunate as it is that it delves from a common hurt and neglect.
A message to the kingdom
The embedded effects of institutional racism unfortunately do not confine themselves to the absence of a dating life for African American girls. It’s a conversation that delves into self-worth, privilege, and social acceptance.
After publishing the first part of this series I received an overwhelming amount of support and responses from peers and students whom I have never had conversations with. I was receiving messages that indicated they felt alone in the situation, it was a relief that there was an acknowledgment of the inner turmoil that we undergo — despite appearing so strong on the surface.
However, the most notable response came from Erin Sudberry-Laudati.
After reading the article, she incorporated it within her Contemporary Literature class since their unit discussed non-fiction social issues.
Sudberry shared that the article spoke to a demographic of people who are not in a position to notice or realize what others, specifically minorities, go through on a daily basis: seeing aspects of their culture utilized in a manner that challenges the line between appreciation and appropriation whilst experiencing discimination for that very same culture.
“The opposite of oppression is privilege,” Sudberry said. “So, when these conversations happen with younger people … you’re the people who are going out in the world, who can change things … so at this level those conversations are important so you can carry things on and make our world better. That was my connection to the class.”
Sudberry went on to explain how the class’ involvement turned into an appreciation of the conversation, acknowledging a problem that they were not aware of — granted there were a few students that did not understand the significance, denying that there is a privilege for those that do not relate to the article.
Those stragglers will always exist. There will always be people who simply do not understand, or refuse to account for the discrimination and struggles of individuals that are not apparent. But that doesn’t mean our voices should be silent.
I will continue to share my own experiences as an African American girl, the deficits I face on a personal level that fail to coincide with my front. I will continue to seek out an opening for that conversation, normalizing our everyday experiences so I can promote the ideology, “You are not alone.” I will continue to speak out and lament, because maybe someone else who doesn’t look like me, who doesn’t share my experiences, will broaden their knowledge on our flawed society.
I am a queen.
We are queens.
This is our decree.
Long live the queens.
Jayna Dias is the Personality Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl