I was raised in a conservative Haitian American family. I spent a majority of my childhood on Long Island. Long Island is pretty isolated not only geographically but also culturally. So I grew up in a black and white world. There were a handful of Hispanics and even fewer Asians but for the most part it was black and white.
I was a bit of a geek and hung out with the theater kids. Theater kids are creative and expressive. They express themselves through their hair, their clothing, their speech and their body language. Me being as creative as I am, I’ve always been attracted to self-expression.
One of my classmates had a rainbow of hair colors ranging from blues to greens to pinks. She was what you would consider Goth. I always admired her boldness. I thought it would be great to dye my hair pink. I went through a pink obsession phase in high school. I wore the color every single day; a pink top with a pink belt and pink ballet flats.
One day I asked my mom if I could dye my hair pink, cotton candy pink. She calmly looked up at me and said no you can’t do that. Why not, I responded. And she replied, because you just can’t! I proceeded to tell my mom about my friend at school whose mother allowed her to dye her hair bright colors.
“Is she white?” my mother asked. I nodded. My mother told me I couldn’t dye my hair because it would mean different things for me. I was so upset I didn’t even ask her to explain further.
That night when I was getting ready to say my prayers with my mother she elaborated on our earlier discussion.
“I can’t allow you to dye your hair a certain color or behave a certain why because people would think you’re ghetto. Life would be harder for you if you’re perceived that way.”
It was at that moment that I realized that in order to be respected in society as a black person I had to work that much harder, do that much more to be perceived as polite. Polite people get jobs. Polite people get opportunities. Polite people are treated well. Life would eventually teach me, that even if I was a polite person that because of the color of my skin being polite wouldn’t be enough.
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