White Washed

Black+teens+are+forced+to+face+stereotypes+and+unrealistic+expectations.

Courtesy of Ryley Anthony

Black teens are forced to face stereotypes and unrealistic expectations.

By Ryley Anthony, Lake Ridge High School

First impressions go a long way. It is society’s natural instinct to evaluate a person’s appearance and construct an initial judgment about who a person is and what they represent. For people of color, especially a majority of black people, the color of their skin often invites a negative perception of who people think they are and what people believe they should represent. 

Over the years society has constructed stereotypes about Black Americans regarding their race. The racial inequities that have been immersed in American history have played a major role in the way Black Americans are deemed and treated. A research paper from Ferris State University by Laura Green entitled “Stereotypes: Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans” highlighted how misinterpreted culture, portrayal in the media, and previous racially influenced laws have created an idea revolving around how black people should think and behave. Green explained how when black people don’t fall in line with this idea, they are often ridiculed, called names, and excluded from their community.

Junior, Kendall Ricks, at 16 years old, has already experienced the harsh reality of stereotypes. Growing up as she tried to navigate her personal values and who she is as an individual, Ricks felt pressure to conform into whatever society was expecting her to be as a black girl. 

“I think there is a stereotype of the ‘loud and ghetto’ black girl. When you don’t fit into that box, people are shocked and say things like ‘I’m surprised you speak so eloquently’ or ‘you act white.’ I’ve definitely been called an oreo and I’ve been told that I talk like a white girl. I know it’s because I speak very properly when I’m with people I might not know as well or when I’m in an academic setting. When a white or non-black person says something like that, I take it with a grain of salt. However, I think it hurts more when a black person says it,” said Ricks. 

Rick’s experience with hearing these comments from other black people indicates that they also employ these stereotypes and unrealistic expectations. Green’s article explores how white society over the past century has shaped the way black people think they should act. This further led to the exclusion of the “black sheep” in the black community. Junior, Jadyn Parker, has felt excluded by both black and white people. Being a biracial student, at times Parker often didn’t know where she belonged. Because of society’s immersed mentality in categorizing, Parker felt stuck between two races not knowing which direction her identity should fall in.

“People called me ‘white washed’ before because of who I would choose to be friends with, the way I would dress, and even the way I talked was considered to be ‘white.’ It made me feel like even though part of me is black I was having to choose between two races,” said Parker. 

Derogatory terms like “white washed” and “oreo” are used to shame black people for not aligning with black stereotypes. The understanding of black culture in the media, often causes a blurred line between expectations and reality. Instead of embracing black people and acknowledging that in reality they have influenced pop culture, society has expected black people to only interact with their own culture. Junior, Kenneth Turnipseed, appreciates how black culture has shaped some of his interests, but he doesn’t want to be restricted to only black elements of pop culture. 

“Black people have left a huge mark on the music scene. A lot of popular rock and roll music from the 50s and the 70s takes a lot of inspiration from music that was pioneered by African Americans. I see that being repeated today as a lot of pop songs take ideas that are commonly found in rap. On a superficial level black culture has shaped my taste in music, movies, and sense of humor. But I also think it has subconsciously affected my political views as well, ” said Turnipseed.  

Some black students have encountered situations where they deemed it appropriate to call another person of color “white washed.” Not because of their interest or tone of voice, but because they rejected the notion of black excellence or equality due to white influence and racism. Sophomore, Jarrod Jackson, reflects on the time he called a black peer “white washed” and why he has no regrets.

“This person had white parents. I think that may have been why he refused to open his eyes to the everyday bias and racism black people endure. When discussing what happened to George Floyd and others affected by police brutality, he didn’t see the incidents as a crooked system, or murder, but as a common mistake,” said Jackson.

Jackson felt justified with his comment because his black counterpart repudiated the unjust treatment his own race is forced to face. However, some students believe it is never okay to refer to someone as “white washed” even when they are struggling with acknowledging or understanding the common experiences of black people. Ricks is one of these students.

“I think it’s extremely damaging to refer to a black person as “white washed.” It basically insinuates that things like how we speak and the way we dress is in accordance with whiteness. When in reality, being black in America has always been about knowing how to live in two different cultures. When we associate things like speaking ‘proper English’ or political views with whiteness, we take away from the black experience,” said Ricks. 

Turnipseed meets both students in the middle. He understands the damage that can be done by using the term, but also recognizes how the weight of the word can bring self-awareness to black people who construct anti-black themes within their livelihood. 

“White washed can be harmful if not used appropriately. White washed is a term that is meant to be damaging, but to me it’s justifiable at times. If you call someone white washed because of their music taste or sense of style that’s not ok. But if someone denounces something like the BLM movement or advocates for policies that are going to hurt African Americans, then I would absolutely consider them white washed, ” said Turnispeed. 

When contemplating the stereotypes and unrealistic expectations of Black Americans, it’s important to weigh the negative and positive elements of the way black people are perceived. Junior, Itohan Omorotionmwan, discusses how personally she has been impacted by racial stereotypes and expectations, confidently defining them as negative. 

“Some expectations society has had about my race, especially as a black woman, is for us to be the solution to everyone’s problem, but also the villain in everyone’s story. There is an expectation to take what society gives us, stay in a corner, and do as we are told,” said Omorotionmwan. 

Turnipseed was able to identify how societal biases might have worked to the advantage for black people in certain areas of life. 

“The stereotypes and unrealistic expectations can be positive and negative. Black people have really thrived in the entertainment or sports industry and have been embraced by it. But when we enter a more intellectual space, we are shunned. Like when there are black people in positions of power or people protest in hopes of benefiting the black community, they are not taken as seriously as they need to be,” said Turnispeed. 

Some black students analyze ways to feel more comfortable with being themselves without facing judgment or rejection. They come to the conclusion that an inclusive environment needs to be created within society. That environment begins with developing an intimate community. School is an efficient place to start because it is a place engrossed in diversity and opportunity for unbiased interaction. Black Student Union Advisor, Dionnica Wilson, has worked with black students over the years collecting feedback regarding creating a congenial environment for all students. 

“At the end of the day, it is important to make sure all kids are comfortable in whatever skin they are in. When you are comfortable, you want to show up. When you want to show up, you’re productive. And when you want to learn you will strive to help others reach their potential by doing your part,” said Wilson. 

Principal Ashley Alloway, values the security of all students and takes steps daily to ensure that Lake Ridge provides support for the diverse amount of people that make up the student body. One of the steps Alloway recently took in order to establish a setting in which black students can learn from teachers they relate to, is seeking to hire staff that have graduated from Historical Black Colleges. 

“We are 78% students of color with 43% of those students being African American. One thing we can’t change is who we are when we are born. Therefore, we want everyone to feel comfortable in their skin. We need everyone to embrace that we are all different. That doesn’t mean saying ‘I don’t see color’ because that’s not true. That means saying ‘I’m not the same as you, but help me understand who you are and what you are about,’” said Alloway. 

As Ricks took note of these problems and solutions she noticed ways her own high school may be subconsciously feeding into the detrimental stereotypes and expectations of black youth.

“I think the Lake Ridge administration and faculty can do a lot of work when it comes to eliminating stereotypes. Black girls are dress coded at twice the rate of our white counterparts. We’re seen as ‘suspicious’ just for existing. There’s even a sign in the cafeteria with ‘gang members’ and they’re all Black and Latino men. What type of message does that send to a student who sees someone who looks like their dad, brother, or cousin up there? I think teachers, admin, and police need to challenge their own implicit bias and how it affects their treatment of students,” said Ricks. 

When the following concerns were addressed with Alloway, she had not noticed the ‘gang member’ poster hanging in the cafeteria. However, after bringing it to her attention, she was eager to make sure the poster prevented any targeting towards students of color.

“I had never noticed it. I don’t know if it’s simply something to educate and say, ‘Hey, don’t be affiliated with gangs because a lot of times gang affiliation leads to incarceration.’ I honestly can’t speak to that because I don’t know the context and purpose. I don’t know its intent. If it makes kids feel it that way, though. I think we should obviously look at it. We don’t want any of our practices to make anybody feel less than or targeted. That’s not fair. And so if there’s something we’re doing, a lot of times I just tell people to tell me so that we can work on it. If I can change it, I will. If it’s a poster, I can take it down. If it’s a flier that says something in an offensive way we can reword it,” said Alloway.

Alloway shared statistics and solutions that will be taken into action regarding the racial fairness of the student body. The statistics revealed that: 43% of students are African American and 53% of students that are dress coded are of that race, 23% of students are white and 18% of students that are dress coded are of that race, and 19% of students are Hispanic and 19% of students that are dress coded are of that race. 

“We just have to continue to pay attention to things. It’s super important that when people feel that way, they tell us. I need students who are willing to say, ‘Hey, I’m not afraid to have this conversation with Miss Alloway.’ I want students to know that I’m genuine. I’m gonna be real. And if we have a problem, I will fix it,” said Alloway.

In Green’s article she elaborates on the virtuous and morally accurate picture that has the possibility of being painted. Only if society takes a step back, evaluates, and eliminates the judgmental mindset they reserve for Black Americans.

“By suspending our disbelief and seeing each person as an individual rather than through the eyes of a preconceived stereotype, we can begin this change on the individual level. As a result, resolution on the community and societal levels can occur,” said Green.

This story was originally published on Eagle Nation News on April 21, 2022.