I Speak for 13% of America
I like to think of myself as different kind of kid. I’m a sixteen-year-old black guy who listens to NPR, writes on Friday nights, and reads for fun. I also go to a small private school in Boston that is very white.
Five years ago, when I first started going to my school, I began to think very intensely about what my actions meant on a broader scale. I realized that for most of the people I would become friends with, I’d be the only black person that they knew and I’d have to set an example. One privilege that I’ve noticed I don’t have (among many) is that I don’t always get to be myself. My white friends don’t have to worry about how their actions will paint their demographic group, but I do.
I dreaded playing basketball because I didn’t want them to see how good I was. I would order orange soda instead of grape. I was even embarrassed about listening to rap music. To me, it was very important that I was as far away from a “typical black person” as possible. I couldn’t embody any stereotypes because I needed to show my white friends that they could be friends with a black kid too.
Because white people are the majority, they don’t have to be concerned about representing their race. But as the only black male in my high school, I feel like some sort of spokesman. I prepare replies to questions that none of my white friends have to think about. What kind of music do you listen to? What do you think about people saying the n word? Why do you talk like a white person? When a white person says those things, there are typically very few opportunities for a black person to reply and it’s important that I make my chances count.
I have to think about what my existence means for other black people too. I have to think about how prejudiced my white friends will be in the future. I have to think about whether or not I made a difference in their lives. I want my friends to understand that if they didn’t know me, they might be afraid to sit next to me on the train. I want them to understand that black people can be just like them.
I also feel like I have to be a role model for the black people that will come after me. Recently I talked to a black Harvard professor and although everything he said to me was very interesting I kept thinking about how just his existence was helpful. As a young person thinking about what journey I’m going to take in life, talking to a black Harvard professor showed me that teaching at a prestigious school isn’t a job reserved for white people, but I could do it too. I want to be that person in somebody else’s life. I want to show a young black kid that he can do everything his white friend can, he just might have to work twice as hard. My white friends don’t have to think about what their decisions mean for their race, but for the sake of all other black people, I do.