OPINION: Growing up black in a black and white world

A digital illustration depicting the diversity of the Black community. Photo courtesy of iStock.

Oreo. Oreos are good. An unbelievably simple, multi-million dollar idea that anyone could have come up with, and quite frankly, I’m a bit upset that I didn’t think of it first. Black, rich chocolate on the outside. White, sweet vanilla cream on the inside. Which brings me back to that fateful day, back in second grade, on the elementary school playground, having a deep, philosophical, second grade conversation with a group of my friends, as all second graders do. I don’t know how we reached the topic, but eventually we were discussing race and stereotypes, with our limited knowledge of the world. That was the first time I was called my most loathed “nickname.” 

“You know, you’re the whitest black person I know,” he said to me, laughing. “You’re like an Oreo, Black on the outside, White on the inside.”

As a young, black kid, I had no idea how to react to such a statement, so, like so many times before and after, I smiled and laughed. Fake it ‘till you make it. A skill I’ve developed in my eighteen years of life as a Black man is that the worst things that will be said to me, to my face, aren’t the outright racist, “call me an N-Word and go back to your country,” kind of statements, but the casual, backhanded remarks that downplay my successes and character simply because my skin is dark. 

I like to call it “Passive Racism.” 

Passive Racism is rampant in our society, and in my experience, far more frequent in suburban areas, dominated by a White population. Already, a person of color just naturally seems out of place, due to the lack of diversity, which is a cause of the issue itself. These people will spend a large and important time of their lives surrounded by people who think, talk, act, and look like them. As a result, they will grow used to a lifestyle that lacks diversity in the form of different ideas, different cultures, and different views. Even worse, is that the most experience with another group of people will be what they see portrayed online and in the media. The ghetto rapper with a diamond chain, designer clothes, and a nice car. The “annoying” basketball player who won’t “shut up and dribble” who’s always talking about societal issues. The bad kid on TV who’s troubled because their dad left them at a young age. The bougie Black girl with long, braided hair who’s constantly finding something to yell about.

Whether we realize it or not, these rather negative portrayals of African American people stick in people’s minds, setting up a false expectation of how they feel that Black people act like. As a Black person, you’re not supposed to be quiet, soft-spoken, intelligent and articulate; all these traits are naturally associated with a White person. Instead, you’re expected to be loud, rambunctious, impulsive, and irrational. You’re supposed to be great at rapping, not reading. You’re supposed to play basketball, not soccer or golf.

When you are fed false caricatures of an entire race for a significant portion of your life, unfortunately, you will start to box them into a barrier of how they are “supposed to act.”

And when they deviate from your subconscious perception of them, when they act against your stereotypes and are inconsistent with your labels, they can’t be Black.

“You don’t talk like a Black guy.”

“Do Black people even play volleyball?”

“What do you mean you don’t listen to (insert miscellaneous Black mainstream artist)? Who do you listen to then?”

“You’re the whitest Black guy I know!”

“You act so White!”

“You’re an Oreo.”

An Oreo.

Black on the outside, White in on the inside.

I’m not Black because I don’t fit within the parameters of your stereotypes.

My blackness is compared to others, and ultimately diminished because I grew up in Oswego, Illinois, not the slums of Chicago.

I’m White because my father is present and active in my life. 

I’m an Oreo because I am well-spoken, educated, and polite.

Regardless of what I do in my life, as an African American living in the suburbs of America, my blackness will always be put under a lens, studied, before being compared to the caricature of the “Typical Black Man” that is portrayed in the media.

In Oswego, Illinois, I’m not a student, a worker, an athlete.

I’m, quite simply, a Black guy.

And with that, comes the expectation for me to act a certain way, rather than be given the chance to be my own self.

Instead of being an individual, I’m grouped in with every other Black person, and measured on a bogus scale of how Black I am based on others.

None of it matters.

I’m a human, just the same as everyone else.

I’m just as Black as my aunt who went to school to be a school counselor in Texas.

I’m just as Black as Michael Jordan.

I’m just as Black as the kid who’s living through the school of hard knocks in the ghetto of New York.

I’m not an Oreo.

I’m not White because I play volleyball, not basketball.

I’m just a man with dark skin.

I am an individual.

And it’s about time people start viewing me as such.

Payton McCullum is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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