by Harriet Acheampong
The streets were so clean, unlike those in the Bronx where I lived. Everything was clearly so different; people were dressed in Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. I was dressed in some H&M pants and a white button down. The most expensive thing I had on me was a pair shoes that I got from Zara. I thought I looked normal. So why was I getting so many dirty looks?
This is only in the train, mind you. I’m at 125, 116, 110, 96… the further downtown I got, the more judgemental people’s eyes got. I could almost hear what they wanted to say about me; a black girl in their territory. What is she doing here? Honestly, I think it make it worse that my hair was natural. Maybe my big afro was blocking them from seeing the real me. Clearly, it wasn’t blocking their ignorant stares. No one ever said anything to me but I thought hey that’s normal, it’s NYC.
I got off the train and the vibes didn’t change. People looking at me, like staring at me in the fakest, sweetest way. So I tried to look away and focus on the streets and how different it is from Harlem and the South Bronx. Why don’t we have clean streets like they do? Where were the cops on every block? I knew it was going to be like this. I thought I prepared for moments like this. Usually when I go places that I’m not familiar with, I go with my friends, but this time I was alone. No one to talk to and laugh with. Of course, it’s all different once you actually do something for the first time by yourself. It’s like umm… say tennis. So we’ve all seen somebody play and it’s easy enough to watch—all they’re doing is hitting the ball to their opponent and they hit it back. But once you get on that court and actually grab the racquet and hit it against the ball, you start to realize the amount of energy and the effort it really takes.
That’s what it felt like the first few weeks of work. I tried so hard to wear expensive clothing and to look good. And the worst part of it all was that the work was hard. We were organizing different data tables and making codes for literally everything. Over time, it got easier to make friends and start conversations. I always tried to dress the same way as the other kids did. I even tried to listen to the same music as them but my goodness, it was horrible. I literally hated it. After the six weeks were over, I was truly wondering what it was that made it so hard for me to fit in. I usually made friends quickly, so what was the problem? I racked my brain to try and come up with a solution as to why I was struggling. I didn’t want to say it.
I knew in my heart that I didn’t belong in that office building, I was trapped between 4 walls and intimidating stares. It is almost as if they were staring through my dark melanin-inflicted skin. As if it was my fault that I was born like this. But stupid me, I didn’t think that people really did think like that. Alas, the day came when I had to realize that people weren’t truly color blind. No matter how much they someone isn’t different, you can always spot someone with differences a mile away. Like someone in some neon clothing ya dig? I just remember trying to be in their shoes. Somebody who looked different from them. I understand their initial reaction of looking at me strangely or not asking me to come to lunch with them. But six weeks? Isn’t that enough time to get to know somebody past their skin color? I tried to liked the same kinds of music and foods that they liked. Why couldn’t they try to accept me? That’s how I learned that prejudice still exists. But you know, life goes on and whatnot.