Duality MAG

By Lauren R., West Chester, PA

     “So ... you’re not American?” asks the girl sitting two seats away from me in biology.

“Um, yeah,” I respond. “Well, actually, we moved around a lot when I was younger. My family is from South Africa and - ” She interrupts before I finish.

“But, wait, if you’re from Africa, why are you white?”

Giggles erupt from my surrounding peers. Feeling my face turn scarlet, I immediately want to roll my eyes and smack my forehead in frustration. I hate this question. I abhor this question. I loathe this question.

Ask the white girl from Africa why she’s white.

Did I choose my ethnicity? Did you?

What irks me the most is ignorance: people don’t understand my culture, my heritage, my ancestry. South Africa is a country, not a region. Most Americans assume that I grew up in a thatched hut while performing tribal dances and speaking Zulu.

Not even close.

To Americans, heritage is the epitome of pride. “Oh, you know my Italian family,” chirps the young mother in South Philadelphia. “We’re loud and we eat enough to feed an army, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Many people simply tack on “American” to describe themselves: Chinese-American, Polish-American, Mexican-American. But as soon as Africa is mentioned, matters get more complicated.

Am I jealous? Without a doubt.

Simply imagine the outrage if I came to school wearing a “Kiss Me! I’m South African!” shirt.

“What? Do you think you’re black or something?”

A year ago, I came in contact with the dreaded test, a simple acronym that controls our futures, the test that decides where we should apply for college, the test that determines our scholarship opportunities - the SAT.

I followed the typical routine: write your last name, first name, and middle initial in the

little blocks and fill in the circles.

I gazed at the next section. I paused.

“How do you define yourself in terms of race or ethnicity?”


I glanced at the list and found my two choices: “African-American/

Black” or “Caucasian.”

I know in my heart of hearts that I am African, but ... I’m not black.

This conundrum left me stumped for several minutes. If I mark “African-American,” I am stating that I am an under-represented minority - an undoubtedly deceitful choice. But marking “Caucasian” doesn’t suit me either. I am fully aware of my skin tone, but I don’t define myself by appearance. I define myself by the accent I acquire each time I visit family, by the food my mother cooks, by my morals and values. I define myself as African: a white girl from Africa.

It’s simply common sense that society defines people by age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, appearance, and lifestyle. These classifications rear their ugly heads in everyday life - even in a bubble on a standardized test. Often people assume that I am ashamed or embarrassed when I do not share my family history. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I am white. I am African. I am a


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This article has 1 comment.

Ashley said...
on Aug. 2 2010 at 8:30 am
I am a white SOuth african girl that moved to Australia two years ago. Although it appears Australia is a lot more accepting of other races and cultures, I still relate strongly to your story. I can't count how many times i was asked why I was white..  I really enjoyed your piece. Well done.


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