The Challenges of Race in Everyday Life

As a young, biracial woman, I have had to deal with race throughout most of my life. Being a biracial girl in a predominantly white neighborhood, I was subjected to being stereotyped. Assumptions were made about the type of person I was, the way I spoke, and whether my hair was real. 

I was uncomfortable in school, which is a place I believe all children should feel comfortable. My comfort going to public places alone was very limited, and the only places I felt safe enough to go by myself were my school, a coffee shop, or a beauty supply store. I felt more comfortable going to places like restaurants, sports events and games, or just into town with my family or friends. Growing up in a predominantly white area, I always stood out without really wanting to. People would first look at the color of my skin and at my hair and then begin to create their own ideas about me in their heads, seeming to find reasons to dislike me and then pick on me just because I was different. 

I would always try to fit in by doing what everyone else was and participating in their activities, like going to hang out with boys and start conversations I was not comfortable with, but I always seemed to end up alone and unhappy. At a young age, between around eight and ten, I started thinking I wasn’t beautiful the way I was and started believing that I needed to straighten my hair to be like the rest of the girls to be considered beautiful. When I opened my mouth to speak, many people seemed shocked by how properly I spoke, having assumed that I would speak in slang or not use the appropriate language for school. Since I was one of the very few girls of color at my school, many people assumed I would speak and act how they thought a “typical” black woman would. I did not fit into the “angry black woman” stereotype they seemed to be expecting.  

Because of my looks and diction, I felt the responsibility of upholding that identity for the rest of my high school career. After my freshman year, I decided to transfer schools and ended up in a school that was predominantly black. The change in location and demographics led to many of the students saying that I was “acting white” and “talking like a white person.” I was not sure if they meant that speaking like a white person meant talking properly. Dealing with stereotypes at fourteen years old, I was not prepared to defend myself. 

Being a biracial girl, having a Black mother and a white father, many people would ask me how I identify. I would get questioned about whether I considered myself to be more white or more Black. It was extremely insulting when I would get asked these questions because I had no answer for them. Being biracial means that I am half Black and half white. I choose not to identify as being a young white woman or a young Black woman but a young biracial woman. 

If I went out with my father, who is a white Icelandic man, I would see the looks of judgement on people’s faces. I was questioned multiple times about whether I was biologically related to my father or if he was my step dad. Some even went as far to assume that he was my “sugar daddy.” Even today I still have to deal with people questioning my relationship with my father. I never felt an obligation to tell people that my dad was indeed my real father, and I do not believe that I should ever have to prove the relationship that he and I have.

When I went to areas that were less white, I generally felt out of place because I was not familiar with certain phrases that Black kids were using and I felt unlike myself when I tried to speak in the same way. I did not listen to all of the same music they listened to and when I could not say a song word-for-word effortlessly, I felt out of place. If I were to use the same slang or phrases my peers would, I just did not feel like myself,  and it appeared to others and myself that I was pretending to be someone I was not. 

I felt as if I could never unapologetically be myself without judgement regardless of the race of my peers. Since there was and still is a lot of discrimination and intraracial racism among black people in general, as a “light skinned black girl,” many of the darker skinned girls would not be as open and welcoming towards me.

Social media praises girls who look like me. With social media being such a big influence, I hope that eventually, instead of separating the lighter skinned girls from the darker skinned girls, it will make it easier for girls of every skin tone to be appreciated. I always believed that all black girls should stick together especially because of the divide created by social media. 

All of my experiences have shaped me into the young woman I am today. I have grown to love myself and to stop trying to fit in. I no longer change the way I speak or the way I look so I can conform to the norms of my peers. 

I have grown up in a loving and supportive environment, where I know my family loves me endlessly. My parents have always taught me to be myself and that people will grow to like me. Especially with the help of my parents, I have been able to become more confident in being myself and not change for anyone or anything. I have started to appreciate everything that is unique about me, including my hair, my clothes, the way I speak, and especially my humor. 

A big part of becoming comfortable in my own skin was finding a solid group of friends, who respected and valued me and my personality. I am able to talk about my experiences without shame and regret because they taught me how to handle certain situations. I am grateful for how I was brought up and the experiences I have had going to both predominantly white and black schools, and although my experiences were not always pleasant, they shaped me into the person I am today, and I am proud that I have been able to overcome the obstacles thrown my way.

Copyright Ramla Gunnarsdottir 2020

Ramla Gunnarsdottir

Ramla took Race in America her junior year at Blair. She is a member of the class of 2021.