Dondrie Burnham

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

White Desirability.

I attended a black elementary school.  The only white people were the teachers, the principal and a couple of dirt poor families.  Which in and of itself, sent a message.

 

My earliest memory of considering color is 2nd grade, when one of my white classmates developed a crush on me.  He started calling me his girlfriend.  Even though boys were fundamentally gross, I was as flattered and intrigued as a 6 year old could possibly be.  He was blonde and he smelled like bologna.   I believe his name was William. He would follow me around and try to hold my hand.  I recall the looks I got from my classmates and the endless teasing.  I wasn’t in love with William.  I had given my heart to literature.  I didn’t mind him, but he was just one more thing that proved ‘I wanted to be white’.

 

First, were my grades and my love of language.  The second, was my desire to be neat yet cutting edge (I wore lightening bolt parts in my hair).  The nail in the coffin was my love of class participation and my desire to learn as much as possible.  In my world, wanting to be more, meant wanting to be white.  Reaching upward meant that you were uppity.   Admiring your teachers, meant that you were an ‘Uncle Tom’, and yes, 6-yr-olds threw that name like a dagger.

 

My parents loved and accepted me as I was. Though, even they were cautious about my desire to be white.  It may have been my obsession with ‘The Babysitter’s Club’, but, I believe that came later.

 

In all honesty, I can’t recall ever having a desire to be white.  I wanted long hair.  I wanted a boy’s name (Rae or Charli) and I wanted to be skinny and famous.  But, I loved my skin.   I loved black people’s humour and secret language.  I loved church and the sound of black cackles.  I’ve always been enamored of black girl magic (It’s not entirely mythical).

 

So, even though I liked William, on that day he waited by the entrance of the school to take my hand, I unleashed a fury that I didn’t I know I possessed.  I grabbed his hair and shoved him to the ground and I hit his head until I was out of strength.  Each blow, a declaration of my individuality, my intellectual independence.  That day, I learned a lesson in rage and repression.  I learned the power of catharsis and how confusion gives way to cruelty.

 

I’m not proud of that moment.  Though, I would go on in the years that followed, to tell it with a ‘Don’t fuck with me’ slant.  I’m sorry William.  You deserved better and so did I.

 

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