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July 13, 2007

Black Woman, White Skin

kenosha robinson

Kenosha Robinson

Photo Credit: Taghi Naderzad

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My health issues pretty much guaranteed I'd never be one of the cool kids. I hated having to wear a hat. And more than anything, I hated the questions I got about my eyes. When someone is born with albinism, they are usually declared legally blind. Though I can see, I have nystagmus, which causes my eyes to shift rapidly from side to side in order to find a focal point. Whenever I meet someone new, I count the minutes before they ask, "What's wrong with your eyes?"

But health issues can't compare with the struggles I've faced with my self-esteem. As a teenager, while classmates were griping about acne and getting their periods, I was facing a different kind of crisis: Who was I? Was I a white girl with black parents? Or a black girl living inside a white girl's body?

Mississippi, of course, has a tense racial past. Though the KKK is no longer in full force, white supremacist Jim Giles ran for Congress with a vocal (if unsuccessful) anti-black campaign in 2004 and 2006. Blacks and whites rarely mix. In a weird way, I felt I was the uncomfortable meeting point between these two groups. In high school, I earned the respect of my white friends for my smarts and quick wit. They elected me class president. But they also excluded me socially. When I'd ask, "What are you doing this weekend?" they'd brush me off, coming up with some bogus errand they had to do. Other times, they were openly rude, making plans for weekend get-togethers in front of me-but never actually inviting me along. My black friends were similarly respectful at school, while shying away from me at the skating rink or the mall, especially when boys came along.

As for the prom, forget it. That was a nightmare waiting to happen. A black guy might take a white girl to the prom, but taking the black girl who looked white was another story. One day in class, the cool black guys asked me who was taking me. I said, with shaky confidence, that I was going alone. I heard one of them snicker, "That's because no one's gonna take her!" In the end, I stayed home. Looking back, I can't believe I was too intimidated to go to my prom.

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