I am who I am and I care not what you think about me. This is the grown up version of sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me. The truth is most of the time I am oblivious to the stares bestowed upon me. I am focused on getting from one place to another, or most recently, navigating my way through a concert venue. Although I may not see people staring, I can feel them doing so. I learned a long time ago that if I allowed myself to be affected by every look or insensitive statement hurled my way, I would never leave home.
However, unlike the rhyme, words do hurt me. Sadly I have been most hurt by the words of people form my own culture. I have been asked why I was at events that were solely for African American women. I have been told I did not belong, was not welcome and that simply put, I wasn’t Black enough. Those who declared these statements might well have told me that I wasn’t’ human for I was treated as other. What this did to me, how I was affected, was with internalized racism. I already battled the “I am way too different to be embraced by this community or that community” and yet I continued to show up. Though the bottom line was that I never felt completely me within the black community.
As a teenager I was bullied. I was physically attacked in junior high school mostly because of the color of my skin. The attack left me with a bloodied nose, bruised ribs and with a sense of terror. Afterward, I no longer wanted to be black. The first year of high school bore similar encounters. The difference was that my older brother was in school with me and upon learning that kids were throwing food at me, he did what many big brothers often do, he punched the boys. He let them know I was his sister and I was off limits. In time i developed friendships. I had a core group of cohorts and we looked out for one another.
In my early adulthood, I began to spread my wings. Prior to this time, I had been very shy. The shyness was a cover for fear. Fear of being treated poorly, fear of not being able to see what might be coming my way and fear of rejection. Living life affected with albinism makes me vulnerable in the world. This is a reality. And yet, I believe in living life fully.
I have worked to heal the internalized self hatred that developed as a result of my appearance. This has been at times hard and yet incredibly rewarding as I am clear that I define myself as an African American woman with albinism. I also say that I navigate the world as a white skinned black woman. When I share this with people, in just this way, they get it. Consequently there is a greater degree of acceptance.
Part of living my life fully has meant that I have come to be comfortable in my own skin. I have come to love myself. Unlike the girl I once was who, instead of pushing back against those who teased me,, I now pause. I ask myself, how do I wish to address the insensitive or ignorant statement directed my way? Honestly, my response depends on the context with which someone comes at me. And believe me, I can tell by the tone of their voice. If there is genuine curiosity, I am more inclined to share information about albinism. If, on the other hand, there is judgement or plain meanness, I choose to walk away. Because, in the end, I am who I am and I care not what you think about me