“Oreo” – by Alexis Smith

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“You’re such an oreo,” my friend said bluntly. 

Black on the outside, white on the inside. 

Being only twelve years old at the time, I did not comprehend the negative connotation associated with the comment. But as I grew older, my understanding of the statement opened my eyes to how just one sentence could deprive me of my sense of identity. I struggled with this comment as it evoked complex emotions that I would struggle with throughout the rest of my life. 

Oreos were my favorite snack until someone called me one. 

Although I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods and attended schools of the same element, I never found myself isolated because of my background. However, a part of me still felt that, because I was fortunate to grow up with money, mostly white friends, and access to a good education, I had somehow neglected my heritage; as a result, I felt the need to also assimilate to black culture and the stereotypes that had been ingrained in me. When I was with my black friends, I was constantly on the lookout to make sure I did not stand out as the white sheep.

I realized that I had been code-switching, a concept developed by W.E.B Du Bois regarding the duality of black culture. It wasn’t intentional, but it was something I had grown accustomed to doing. The constant process of shifting my behavior in different environments was a root cause of the discomfort I felt towards myself and my place within my own culture.

The constant inundation of these thoughts started to stretch me in opposite directions. But I was ready to find solace in enjoying who I am, instead of conforming to what others believed I was. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote that “man is free, but everywhere he is in chains.” I seek to break away from my own chains; I want freedom in how I decide to carry myself, and I will fight against the shackles of society that seek to hold me back. 

So far, I have done this by participating in events that foster individuality, while also cultivating aspects of my background. They have helped me come to a conclusion about who I am. Moreover, they have inspired me to embrace the idea that being black is what I make it out to be. It is not a singular, stereotypical description, but instead a celebration of a group of people with a rich, diverse history.

I no longer feel the need to conform to one group, and this fluidity allows me to create connections with people from all types of backgrounds. I am able to expand my knowledge and formulate experiences that make me who I am: proudly diverse. Molding my background into something unparalleled is constant development, but to feel the lack of chains and expectations regarding my unique culture is empowering.

What makes me who I am is the diversity of the situations I place myself in. To me, being black means being proud of my background, and not being afraid to break through the limits of an institution being placed upon me. 

“You’re such an oreo,” my friend had said bluntly. 

A blended personality. 

This statement no longer bothers me. It is a symbol of the heterogeneity of my character and beliefs, demanding that I don’t take a back seat to my surroundings.