The Snack Aisle

AUSTIN KNIGHT, MA, TLLP, LLPC

Growing up black in mostly white spaces is, to keep things short, is a surreal experience which often left me feeling a sense of Imposter Syndrome. While Imposter Syndrome can refer to a lot of things, I am talking about specifically the fact I am a black person but at times felt I was not “black enough”. So for me and other black and brown people we may have been called things such as “Oreo,” “banana,” “coconut,” and so on. However there are many ways any of us could feel like imposters in our own roles.

This was an experience I still struggle with as a black person that finds themselves in spaces with mostly white people, this is not to say I do not love these spaces, or my white friends. However, this experience can lead to some very uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes even harmful moments. Moments where cops come to harass you but maybe not your white friends, moments where you know someone said something out of line but feel unable to speak up, moments where it is questioned if you even enjoy being black. All in all, it left me feeling a little out of place to go to my school of mostly white people, then to come home to my black community. As if I was straddling two worlds but doing both poorly. Then high school came, and I went to a mostly black high school, part of me thought perhaps I would feel less weird at this change, I would go to a school in a black community, near where I lived, and my white friends from middle school would be in a separate box almost. I would see my white friends on weekends or over break and have this new set of black friends. Instead I found a lot of resistance to making any friends at my high school and ended up making none. I was viewed as too foreign; I was an “Oreo,” black on the outside white on the inside.

So, there I was, in the middle of trying to grow my identity and getting rejected by this black community, and at the same time the greater white society I knew did not want me. I think the perfect example of what I am trying to say exist in a lyric from Earl Sweatshirt: “Too black for the white kids, too white for the blacks,” and that was how life went for me until I was almost out of my undergraduate degree program. I had a real fear of befriending black or brown people and felt I could not be my full true self around my white friends. I did not truly explore my blackness and racial identity until I was 21 and it is something, I am still doing seven years later; it feels exhausting and as if I am playing a game of catch-up with the black and brown friends I have made more recently. The feelings around this are complex and very difficult, because I know the black community I was trying to take part in was simply trying to protect itself and the white spaces I was in were reacting the way they had been taught to react, not that this is an excuse, but also looking back I cannot expect a group of 14-year-old kids to dismantle a whole system of racism.

Without counseling to explore this identity of mine I could still be left in that limbo, questioning if I am “black” enough, if I am “nerdy” enough, if I am enough. Life can leave us feeling that often, maybe we move to a new place and feel we do not fit into the new friends we make. Maybe you make a new friend but feel you are simply trying to emulate them and not being your genuine self. Could be that you really love the Marvel movies but whenever you talk to someone who reads the comics you just feel “fake”; or you could be like me, and think that there is a certain way to exist in your skin that validates you and makes you enough.

Walking along side a therapist in my own identity journey made figuring out who I was an achievable goal, and it is one of the passions I have in my role as therapist now; especially for anyone that has been called names from the snack aisle.