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Why an Oreo? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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If I were a food, I've frequently been told, I would be a Double Stuf Oreo. This comparison is not based on me being appealing, loveable, good with kids, or even generic, as I originally thought before I heard a student mutter it under her breath in sixth grade.

I was one of the good kids who didn't need to be corralled by the exasperated art teacher. I came to class, took out my paper, sat next to a friend, and began to draw. A girl with big hoop earrings and an oversized T-shirt sat across from me and put her feet up, eyeing me skeptically for several minutes while I struggled to avoid her gaze. My friend and I worked and talked about a test we had just taken. At a certain point in the conversation, the girl rolled her eyes and snickered “Oreo,” nodding at me.

The room fell silent. I was confused. Was I supposed to be insulted at being compared to a cookie? Was that the worst thing the school's notorious tough girl could call me? A whispering student across the room clarified, “It means she might be black on the outside, but she's sure white on the ­inside.”

It was the first time I remember feeling judged. I looked around the room full of minority students, all looking at me with disgust. I was not one of them, they'd decided, because I didn't talk like them or hang out with them, and I cared more about school than they did. Although I wasn't sure I ever wanted to be part of the black slacker group, it hurt to be rejected for being “too white.” I was simultaneously too good and not good enough for the black community.

After word spread that I was an Oreo, no black kid would have anything to do with me. Even the few other students of color in my magnet program, whom I expected to commiserate with me, denounced me for trying too hard to fit in with the white kids. To them, my intelligence and manners weren't my sins; my straightened hair and white friends were. Everyone seemed to draw a different line to the same conclusion: I was, indeed, a cookie.

The taunting remarks stopped in middle school, but the stigma has followed me – not just to high school, but to family functions, ski trips, service, work, and church. It's like everyone, from the middle school delinquents to the privileged private-school girls who giggle that I'm the “whitest black girl they know,” has reached a consensus: that I am indeed an Oreo, that my soul is filled with vanilla cream, despite my crunchy chocolate exterior. What surprises me most isn't that people call me this, but the idea that white and black ­people are still thought to have distinct, non-compatible traits, and any divergence from these stereotypes results in being labeled.

Shouldn't we, almost 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr., be well past these ideas? As a society we shouldn't be expecting blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, or any other ethnic group to act according to stereotypes, and, as members of minority groups, we shouldn't encourage peers to buy into these ideas.

The nickname Oreo, which once caused me torment, now provides me with inspiration and hope. Hope that all America will chew on the idea of a culture of many who act uniquely, think uniquely, and don't allow stereotypes to mass-produce them, package them with others of a similar ethnic background, label them, and then ship them off to be devoured by our ravenous society. I wish for others who defy prejudice – more Oreos, eggs, tacos, Klondike bars, whatever. Let's re-stock the grocery stores of America!

I've had a difficult relationship with the black stereotype, with the term Oreo, and becoming comfortable with who I am in relation to my race. But what I've ultimately decided is that my race is only one item I put on my lunch tray. It's not the entree I've been craving, and it's certainly not, as I once thought, the restaurant or the cuisine. It's that reliable dessert, the one that ideally will taste good with everything, and whatever else I decide to put on my plate – intelligence, humor, dialect, friendship, talent, fears, dreams – says more about me than one nickname and a whole lot of ignorance.

So six years later, I'd like to respond to my first bully. If I am any cookie, I'm a macaroon – too complicated for just anyone to bake, boasting exotic and unusual flavors like passionfruit and lilac as well as the beloved chocolate and vanilla, worth more than $3.99 a box, and most importantly, far less likely to crumble.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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KatsK This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm:
This is really good. I love how you used a metaphor at the end. It's afu to be labeled, but I think it's awesome that you've grown past that.
 
KatsK This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm :
* I meant awful
 
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