Dietrich College News
2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards
Prose: High School
First Place (Tie)
Anomalies: My Struggle for an Identity
11th grade, Winchester Thurston
Everyone desires to stand out. No matter the profession they
wish to pursue, the effort they put into their reputation, or the reasons
that motivate them to do so, succeeding is always the main goal.
When I was young, I loved the idea of being someone unique. A girl
who stands out against the crowd, and whose work and ideas can
count for something in the future. I studied, I researched, I experienced
the world as best as I could, and yet, there was a barrier. I never
thought about my race as something that defined me. With every
standardized test, I marked the clear bubble “Black/African-American”
without a second thought. I actually thought of it as impractical; why
in the world would they need to know that? It’s not like it changes
my score, I thought. I had eventually achieved my lifelong goal of
individualism, and realized it was much harder than I believed. It
wasn’t until I had begun accomplishing something with my knowledge
and skills that I realized how much that bubble on that page actually
I’ve been labeled and categorized as a variety of titles
throughout my lifetime. “Silly,” I could agree with; “weird,” I could
live with; “black,” I was forced to accept. However, I don’t endure the
projected hatred that was so prevalent during Dr. King’s time. I have
friends of every different shade, and every origin. I’ve gone to two
schools: one being a public school with the majority of the students
being African-American, now currently a private school that has more
diversity in its student body. The transition was odd, as I’ve never
been a minority—as defined by the color of my skin at least. With
my final goodbyes to my elementary school memories, I realized how
out of place I’ve really been. As a straight-A student at the time, I was
constantly criticized as “too smart.” Being described as a person who
is “not black enough” shocked me even more. I can’t remember what
scared me more: the idea that there was ever a thing as too smart
or the air of inferiority my friends had towards me. In my mind, I was
just as “black” as the rest of them. Metaphorically speaking, I was the
black sheep in my class. In my entire school. I was singled out among
my many friends.
But to many, I was not black.
“What does this mean?” I thought to myself. What does
black actually mean, and why doesn’t it seem to fit with my identity,
according so many people I identify with? Since when did my character
determine who I was supposed to represent on the outside? Dr. Martin
Luther King once said that he hoped to “look to a day when people
will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their
character.” What would he say if the same people are, in fact, being
judged by their character, but are being compared and discriminated
against because it may not “fit” with the stereotypes attached to the
color of their skin? Since when is intelligence a personality trait of
Caucasians? When did the diverse genres of music I listen to—I’ve
recently gained an obsession with Korean pop—make me an anomaly
in the black community? All of these questions swirled around in my
head, and I started to believe what people were actually saying about
me: I’m just not black enough.
About two years later, I was a rising sophomore at Winchester
Thurston. I pursued the same goal of developing my character, but
I still questioned the definition of black. I shied away from most of
the students, hoping that they would just make a label for me that
I could live with. Despite this, my personality shone through, and I
made friends, like any other high school student. However, there were
very few African-American students, compared to my old school, who
really accepted me. I was fine with this; I had friends, and that’s all
that mattered. By then, I was a competitive rower for my school’s crew
team, I was a major trumpet player in Winchester Thurston’s jazz band,
and I had pretty decent grades. I was finally happy, and I thought I had
found a place where I belonged. I didn’t think I was seen as “not black
During that Thanksgiving break, I was headed over to my other
grandparents’ (my father’s parents’) house—it’s been a tradition in my
family that we visit as many relatives as we can during winter holidays.
I always thought it was a great idea. Everyone was included in the
“Drain community.” As soon as I stepped in the door, I expected that
everyone would be excited to hear about the new things I’ve been
accomplishing at school, as my older brothers and I were the only
people in our family to attend a private school. I guess I actually was
unique, in my own special way. Among the questions, “What are the
students like?” was in the top 10. I gave bromides as responses, and
they usually accepted them. At one point, my grandfather asked about
my rowing career:
“What in the hell kind of a sport is crew for a person like you?”
“What are you trying to say? I love rowing,” I replied.
“Rowing? That’s not like you. You’re too big anyway, and when’s
the last time you’ve seen a black girl in a boat? I guess you aren’t that
black after all. I knew those white people would change you.”
And just like that, my hopes were dashed. Besides my self-
esteem about my weight being crushed into the dirt, everything I
believed about the “Drain community” became a lie at that point.
From the words of my grandfather, I’m not black. How could I give up
something I was so passionate about in order to be accepted in my
own family? I recognized that no matter what I do, the color of my skin
would scream black to a person of any other color, and to blacks, I am
just a mistake. A failure to uphold the current black stereotypes that
everyone knows about. An anomaly.
Two months ago, I watched the documentary Black Is… Black
Ain’t by Marlon Riggs, and it inspired me to truly think about who I am
as an African-American—or, who I thought I was. According to Riggs,
because one’s black identity was so often limited, distorted and made
shameful by whites, asserting a new black identity became important
to many African-Americans. His camera traverses the country, coming
face to face with black people young and old, rich and poor, rural and
urban, gay and straight, who are grappling with the paradox of several,
often contested definitions of “blackness”—just like me. Additionally,
generalizations were being imposed upon African-Americans not
only by those outside the race but by black people themselves. I was
surprised that I wasn’t the only one enduring this discrimination and
relieved as well. Furthermore, every skin color has a set of beliefs
portrayed by the media or just word-of-mouth to the public. How
could I protest my lack of inclusion in the black community, when
those of other races are undergoing the same struggle? Maybe
anomalies aren’t the issue: labels based on appearance are. No one
should feel discriminated against because their personality doesn’t fit
The war that Dr. Martin Luther King fought against discrimination
is by no means over; the battle of white vs. black may have been
won, but not the battle of an individual versus his/her corresponding
stereotypes, which is a battle that I have been fighting for my entire
life. A battle for many individuals whose complexion, class, speech,
intellect, religion, gender or sexual orientation have made them feel
like anomalies to the stereotypes they have been fighting against. To this day, I realize that these labels aren’t leaving anytime soon; this doesn’t require that I, or anyone else, must live with them either. I am me, the hard-working woman that I’ve aspired to become, and no label can take that away.
View the complete list of the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Award winners.
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