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Original illustration by LaVonne Patoir

10 Things I Heard Growing Up Black

1. *during a lice check* Oh, we don’t need to check your hair for lice.

This one goes out to all the cornrows. While lice checks aren’t common in school anymore, ask any child who grew up in the nineties/early 2000s and they’ll likely remember getting their head checked for lice. The school nurse would comb through strands of my fellow peers, but upon glancing at my braids or twists, would also pass by me with a quick glance. Of course, I never complained.

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2. You’d look so good with straight hair!

Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. Either way, it is not your place to comment on how you think my hair should look like. Because of comments like this, I spent years throwing chemicals onto my hair. It took several more years for me to feel comfortable wearing it out natural or in protective hairstyles.

3. Am I allowed to say the n-word too?

If you have to ask yourself if it’s okay to say something, the answer is probably no. Black people took a word used to hurt them and reclaimed it— there’s a power that lies in that.

4. Is that your real hair?

If you have to ask if someone’s hair is real, you probably shouldn’t ask at all. I know how to curl hair, cut hair, bleach it, dye it and put up twenty different types of messy buns but I constantly receive questions about my various braids or twists. There’s not enough information, or education, about black hairstyles.

5. Do you tan?

This one goes hand-in-hand with, “Do you even need to use sunscreen?” (The answer to both of these is yes.)

6. That’s your dad?

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For context, my father (light-skinned and tan) is native to South American skin while my mother identifies as black. I’ve had people assume he’s Hispanic and try to speak to him in Spanish, others assume he’s Chinese. My dad tries to brush it all off as a joke, but some things simply stop being funny.

7. Keep your hands on the steering wheel when you get pulled over.

My dad would also tell me to gesture towards the cops that my window has to be manually rolled down, just in case…

8. You’re too loud.

Yes I am. I’m loud, I’m confident and I’m independent. I’m not afraid to speak my truth.

9. You’re so aggressive.

Define aggressive. Is it, “competitive”? “Vigorously energetic?” “Threatening?” Or am I just making you feel uncomfortable, so you automatically default to calling a black woman “aggressive”? As I entered high school, I discovered that I could make the same joke as someone else, but I’d be the one called out for being “sassy”.  When I entered college, I discovered that this stereotype could follow me into clubs and organizations, or even work.

10. You’re so white.

Labels matter. In middle school, I remember my white-skinned peers would like to stand in between two black people and say they were in an “Oreo”, but they would never ask me because I was “too white”. When I started singing showtunes instead of rapping verses, my friends and family would say that I acted “so white”. At first I embraced it, painting over myself with the culture I identified with. I was younger then, but I’m older now. Labels matter, and little black girls growing up in small white communities shouldn’t have to feel pressured to identify with one culture (and skin tone) over the other.

So yes, maybe I have actually heard all of these things before but maybe (just maybe) we can create a world in which the next little black girl doesn’t.


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LaVonne Patoir is a senior at Florida State University, graduating in April 2021. She is passionate about writing about the BIPOC community, trends from the 2000s, and likes reading career or academic tips. When she's not working (or sleeping), she is either watching anime or attempting something she saw on Pinterest.
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