"Not quite white, not quite black...so what is she?" "Kinda Chinese, but kinda Hispanic? I don't know, she's just a mutt. "
"She's just a mutt." I've heard this statement too many times to count and honestly, I haven't always felt the same way about it.
Growing up in a small, southern town in Georgia was always a challenge for me simply because some people consider me to be racially ambiguous. I am black and proud to be it, however proving it always proved to be a challenge.
I have small, almond-shaped eyes, light-to-fair complexion, and small features.
There was a time when I was around 10, when I didn't understand black, white, or any of the colors. I just knew me. That didn't last long though,thanks to the fateful day my mom decided to straighten my hair.
It was the first day of 3rd grade, and my mom said I was old enough to get my hair done. Naturally, I was excited, however I didn't know that when my hair is straight I look very...not Black.
I walked into class, confident that everyone would love my hair like I did; I was so wrong.
"She thinks she's cute because she's got a lot of hair"
"I though you said you were Black?"
"See, I told you she wasn't Black!"
"She looks Chinese!"
They teased me so bad, I started crying and the teacher had to call my mom to come pick me up. Afterwards, the teacher stood me up in front of the class while she gave a speech about different colors of people and how we should love everyone.
"I'm a different color?" I thought to myself...and just started crying more.
I was so embarrassed, I just wanted to disappear.
Then, my mom, who looks even more racially ambiguous than me, knocks on the door and pokes her head in.
"I'm here to pick up Mikala."
"CHING-CHONG!!" yells the "funny kid" in the class. The class erupts in laughter as I run to my mom.
Next day, the funny kid and his friends are following me around the playground, pulling their eyes back and yelling "Chink! Chink!".
I went home that night and asked my mom what "Chink" mean't. She looked down at me with her dark eyes and started crying. She immediately knew what I was going through and held me tight.
After a while, she gently held my face in her hands and said, "You are beautiful, don't listen to them."
Third grade was hard; I ended up switching schools next year, but the teasing never really stopped.
I found out that we inherited small eyes from Cherokee ancestors with very strong genes. I fell in love with my eyes then, because they represented my connection to such a beautiful culture.
My mother later told me that she was also bullied in school for looking different and not quite looking like everyone else. They didn't call her Chinese though, instead, her peers teased her by calling her a Papoose (a not so nice term for Native American child). She often had girl try to fight her and was bullied almost constantly for something she could not control. This broke my heart, because I understood her pain. At the same time, I praised her for being resilient and loving herself despite the ridicule.
I didn't know it then, back in third grade, but my eyes and everything about me is beautiful. Nowadays, I still get the occasional "What are you?" or "Where are you from?", which is totally fine. I love myself a lot more now, and I've learned from my mother how to be resilient.
The message is to always love yourself and love what makes you different, because it also makes you special.