I first found out I was black when I was about eight. To be fair, I knew that I was black before then, but I didn’t know that it meant anything. Certainly nothing bad.
But it was at eight when, upon meeting me, the parent of one of the friends I’d made at my very exclusive, very white private school looked at me in shock that someone their kid had grown fond of, with a name as plain and “acceptable” as mine, was also a little black girl with unruly ponytails and penny brown skin. I don’t know what happened after my friend was hustled into their waiting car, but I do remember we didn’t seem to play as much after that.
There weren’t many invites for sleepovers or birthday parties. And there was the assertion- at that same school many years later- that I had to have cheated on a science test because “you people usually aren’t this good at science.” There was the time I wrote a paper so good that my teacher was sure I plagiarized it because she couldn’t believe that I was smart enough to write it. It wasn’t until a black teacher’s aide I’d had the year before came to my defense that the ‘A’ I’d earned was allowed to stand. All these years later, I still remember the stinging humiliation of it. It would be years before I ever wrote another thing for pleasure.