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Brown Skin Girl: A Teenager Finds Her Way

Samira Peterson
Basim Blunt
Samira Peterson speaks about culture from her perspective.

A story from the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield about the impact culture has on teenagers.

My name is Samira Peterson. I am 17 and a junior at Global Impact STEM Academy. I live with my mom, Keisha, my dad Christopher, my sister Soraya, who is 14, and my sister Samir, who is eight. I love to sing in the car, paint and read mystery books. I love my school and everything that we do. I love [that] we get the freedom to do our work on our own time schedule.I love how we are one big community from multiple schools. But that doesn't mean our school doesn't have its challenges.

As far as I know, out of 300 students, there are about 30 students of color in my entire school. My story is about how hard it is to be a Black teen around white teens and feel like you belong. We go through the pressures of school and the pressures of following the rules our parents taught us. The first rule that I was taught: not to sound like a Black girl, like the white stereotype of the Black girl without a good education. I was taught to do this thing Black people call code-switching. We use bigger words and give less personality when we talk around white folk.

When I was in eighth grade, I pressed my hair for the first time since going to this school. I loved it because I love my hair and how long it is. Well, unfortunately, a white girl touched my hair and asked me if my hair was fake. I sucked up my feelings. If I were to say, "Don't touch my hair," or "Get your hands off of me," I would be the one in trouble andlabeled under the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Another example of something that happened at my school is someone brought in a Trump flag and ran around the lunchroom promoting it. The next day, a kid brought in a Mexican flag. The kid who brought in the Trump flag didn't get in trouble. The kid who brought in the Mexican flag received an in-school suspension. Things like this are done because white kids around me do not understand what they're saying is racist. The administration doesn't know either. So no change really happens.

One way I'm involved with fixing things at my school is the club that I joined. We are a non-school sanctioned student-led club that meets after school with the help of our college English teacher Erica Graber and her advice in leadership through everything. We want the club to be a safe space for people of all ages and races to come together,talk and learn from each other. We also have Asian kids and white kids. We don't have to code-switch or anything here. The club started with an assignment from our student leader Annaliese on her experiences in our school.

Annalise:  Kids have been making racist jokes towards me for being Asian because of my appearance. 

Samaira: So what are some of those racist jokes that you are referred to?

Annalise: The usual, like squinty eyes ones, you know? The can you see? Can you drive? Because it's so ridiculous. They wanted to know if I had COVID or, you know, eating bats or if I spoke Chinese. Apparently, that would also make it so I have COVID. I'm not even from China.

Samaira: OK. And so like, how did you handle that? Like, how did you respond to that?

Annalise:  Again, at the time, I was super duper whitewashed, so I just kind of looked at them for the majority of my life. I didn't even recognize the fact that I was Asian. I just kind of went with it.

 Samaira: So what do you hope that your club brings to others?

 Annalise: I want everyone to have a chance to feel like they have a voice in the world and a way to make change.

 Samaira: OK, thank you.

 Annalise: Yup.

We want to use the club to teach kids all over Springfield about things that schools do not include in their curriculum, like Lewis Latimer, like Maya Angelou. We want to watch films like The Color Purple and discuss them and relate them to what is going on in the world today.

Instead of trying to make jokes about things you may not know much about,it's better to try and learn. I guess what I'm trying to say is that going to school full of white people is harder than what we make it seem.

Samaira Peterson is a student at the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield. Special thanks to Beth Dixon at Wellspringfield.org. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.