I am absolutely a Functional Girl. For me, that means that I am courageous, spontaneous and know how to turn my dreams into reality, but the road to get here hasn’t always been easy. I can’t imagine being who I am today without dealing with the negativity that I faced as an adolescent. Discovering who you are is a vital part of growing up, but we’re constantly pressured to try to fit a mold that’s been created by someone else’s idea of who we’re supposed to be. If you are black, you listen to R&B and hip hop. You love Kool-Aid, speak with a twang to your voice and have a bad attitude. I was never that girl.
As a young girl, I got teased a lot because I didn’t fit that mold. My mother read tarot cards and believed in astrology. My father took us to psychic conventions and Afrocentric gatherings where my siblings and I learned the roots of African culture, how it spread in America and what tribal traditions have died due to cross culturalization. I was taught proper diction and to enunciate my words, as my parents believe that best way to be heard is to show that you are knowledgeable. I grew up in the cultural melting pot of Southern California; you would think such a diverse environment would have led to more understanding and acceptance, or at the very least tolerance, of other cultures, but society doesn’t always make sense. There was constant fighting between the black and Hispanic gangs, while on the other side of that coin were the punks, the skaters, the indie kids and the electro pop junkies, who were friends with anyone and everyone.
My mom counteracted the violence we saw by teaching us meditation and positive ways to deal with anger, and her and my dad completely forbid gangsta rap. My siblings were into the industrial music and metal of the early ’90s, but I preferred to listen to positive black thinkers. Some of my favorites were groups like Arrested Development and The Fugees, which was in no way “cool,” especially for an eight-year-old. My siblings and I were considered “white washed” because of our behavior, clothing styles and music choices.
“It made me realize that music is a universal language that should invoke emotion, ideas and dialogue. It should never be used as a divisive weapon.”
Being outcast due to my music choices made me really question why ethnic groups limit themselves when it comes to music. Why can’t a black person enjoy metal or punk rock? There are certainly bands that do not fall within the stereotypical confines of those musical genres. The inspirational punk band Bad Brains was all black, Jada Pinkett Smith was the lead singer of a metal band and the band Killswitch Engage has a black lead singer. It made me realize that music is a universal language that should invoke emotion, ideas and dialogue. It should never be used as a divisive weapon.
By the time I was in middle school, the majority of my friends were Mexican, El Salvadorian or white. Most of the other black kids didn’t like me. I talked funny, I didn’t dress like they did and my mother never gave me a perm. I wasn’t allowed to hangout with the kids that didn’t seem proper. I wasn’t allowed to associate with anyone or be involved with anything that could be construed as “ghetto.” Again, my parents are very Afrocentric, which can have a negative connotation for people who don’t genuinely understand what that entails. We were prominent figures in the African American festivals and were raised to be proud of our ethnic heritage. I tried to use my knowledge of African history to become friends with the other black children in my neighborhood, but they had no idea what I was talking about. And since most of them were Christian, in their eyes my African religious beliefs were akin to dancing with the devil.
“I remember hating her for not raising me to be the right kind of black girl. Why couldn’t I have friends that were the same color as me?”
I just didn’t understand why they didn’t like me. To them I was the weird black girl that didn’t fit into their easy idea of what it means to be black. I didn’t fit their stereotype, their standard of “normal” and so I was rejected. There was a time when I tried to wear my hair the way the other black girls did. I even tried to talk the way they did, and my mom confronted me about it one day while driving back from the mall. She peered at me from the rear view mirror and said “Why are you talking like that? I didn’t raise you to talk like that.” I remember hating her for not raising me to be the right kind of black girl. Why couldn’t I have friends that were the same color as me? At that point it was important to me to have friends with the same ethnic background, because I thought that I could connect with someone deeper if we were the same color.
I was angry and blamed all my problems on public school. I told my mom I wanted to go to an arts school instead. I wanted to be an actress or a director or illustrate storyboards; I needed to express myself in any outlet possible. I spent a lot of time writing poetry, acting out scenes from plays and choreographing dances. I found my outlet in performance, and through creative expression I found some peace.
“We are all entitled to find our own way in life.”
The other kid’s attitude towards me created a fight within my spirit. I knew I had to stop focusing on the way others viewed me and pay attention to the way I view myself. I let others make me feel shy and that, in turn, stopped me from being the real Netera. I had to learn that not everyone is meant to understand or like you, and that if you waste your time on people who aren’t willing to accept you then that’s a choice you make. I cannot change anyone’s views or perceptions of me, nor should they matter to me. We are all entitled to find our own way in life. I certainly loved my weird music over the popular hip-hop being played on the radio, so what’s wrong with the person who prefers hip-hop? Absolutely nothing. We are all human beings and have the right to our own opinions.
Unfortunately, I believe that stereotypes will always exist. Everyone needs to realize that you’ll never really know who someone is unless you’re open to the idea of connecting with them as an individual. My skin color is just a way to identify me in a crowded room. If we want to change society, we have to start from within. We must put aside the petty, small-minded stereotypes that all too often dictate our social and cultural conditioning. Are you making choices in life based on what you believe to be right, or are your choices motivated by someone else’s ideas about who and what you’re supposed to be and do and love? I am not the only black person who has experienced this, nor is this issue limited to black people. This dangerous practice has become too familiar and easy for all ethnic groups in America. At the end of the day, we are human beings and Americans. Each of us fight our own battles every day. We fight for our hopes and dreams and ideals. Some of us are fighting just to survive. We need to forget about stereotypes and fight just as hard for each other.