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The Whitest Black Girl

That’s what I was called in college and how I ended up identifying myself for years to come afterward.

With the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of the protests, people are starting to ask questions about themselves, their biases, and the experiences of black people. One of my closest friends recently called me and actually asked about my perspective. Being asked about my thoughts on the matter was actually very eye-opening for me and led me to rethink about a lot of my experiences as a kid, in high school, in college, in grad school, and now as a working professional. So, to start with, I’d like to personally thank my dear friend for being brave and caring enough to ask me the tough questions.

So, why was it so eye-opening for me to share some of my experiences as a black person? It’s because I’ve never truly identified myself as black. Genetically, I’m half black and half Navajo. Growing up, half of my family is Navajo and the other half are Caucasian. I can think of having only one black friend in my almost-30 years of living. All of my friends have either been white, Hispanic, or Asian, but mostly white. I didn’t have any African American cultural influences growing up.

Not that I didn’t know any African Americans but I guess you can say black people were not doing the activities that I did. I was very active in soccer and volleyball in school and I was the only black athlete on my teams. I made friends with people who I had commonalities with and since my entire life were these sports, that is where I made friends.

As a child and a teenager, I heard more negative racial comments about Navajo people than I did black people, so again, I didn’t really have to deal with the prejudice and racism that surrounds the black community. As a college athlete, things changed.

College is where the “whitest black girl” was born. A couple of my teammates came up with that title after they met me. Apparently, I was not what they expected based off of what I looked like in pictures. Back then I didn’t think anything of it. I made a joke of it and wanted to be included. And again, I hadn’t really identified as black up to this point so this moniker didn’t really bother me. I took it with me when I went to PT school and even introduced myself as that person to my classmates.

College is where I started to identify more as African American and I was made acutely aware that I was different from my white teammates and friends.

I was not white physically but also was not black in how I behaved.

I was frequently made aware that I did not have a big butt like a black person should have. I could not dance like black people should be able to. My skin tanned to black (which is when I started making an effort to cover myself with long sleeve shirts and hats to prevent tanning). My hair was different and did not straighten like white women’s hair did. I did not speak like a black person should speak. Oh and the other running joke was that my nickname was “Latasha” because an employee at Starbucks got my name wrong.

I let these things go on for my duration in college. I never spoke up and never let my friends know that I was sad about what was being said. I was sad that I was different from them and sad about how frequently my difference from them was brought to attention. I just went with it. I have never wanted to belong so bad.

When I moved to California for PT school, “the whitest black girl” came with me. It was how I introduced myself to my classmates that first year. But, then it died (and good riddance). It could honestly be because I became known as the anxious perfectionist instead. Which I am perfectly okay with because being the anxious perfectionist doesn’t tell me how I should act because of my race; it simply describes who I am as a person. At my core, I am anxious and I am a perfectionist. And, the “whitest black girl” has never been resurrected since.

These past 7 years of living in Orange County, I have made friends with people from different backgrounds (still none that are black, but I think talking about diversity in the PT world is for another time). These new friends have never brought up how I’m not a “typical” black person. I have never felt that I was doing things and saying things just because I wanted to be included. They just see me as their friend. I can honestly tell you that I feel more myself here in Orange County than I ever felt in Arizona.

In hindsight, I never should have allowed “the whitest black girl” to ever exist. It came from racial biases based solely off of how I looked.

Just because I’m black, it doesn’t mean I should know how to dance. Just because I’m black, it doesn’t mean I should have kinky curls or a weave or an afro. Just because I’m black, it doesn’t mean my butt and thighs have to be big. Just because I’m black, it doesn’t mean I have to speak with slang or imperfect grammar. Just because I’m black, it does not mean I have to act in any way that you think a black person should act.

I don’t know where we go from here. How can we stop the racial injustices towards black people and towards all people of color? (There is definitely a lot of racism towards Navajo and all Native American people too but, again, that may be another post). Maybe it starts with acknowledging how you may be implicitly feeding into the system. Recognizing your own implicit biases. Educate yourself.

I’m positive that my friends in college were not aware how I felt about their comments. I’m positive that they did not think their comments were racially insensitive. What I wanted to show was how the seemingly “harmless” jokes are just not okay.

The physical violence against black people is unacceptable. The verbal attacks and discrimination are unacceptable. The experiences like mine, telling people how they should behave/look based off their appearance, are also unacceptable. Experiences like mine feed into the larger rhetoric of systemic racism and prejudice against people of color.

I know this post may not seem that it is even correlated with physical therapy. However, as a physical therapist, I need to know my implicit biases. I work with different people every single day and as a PT, I want to make sure that I give my patients the very best care despite their race, ethnicity, gender, political beliefs, religious beliefs, or any other differences from me they may have. But, there barely goes a week in which I’m not asked by my patients, “so, where are your parents from?” or some version. Basically, “what are you”?

I’m not entirely sure how to end this post. For me, this was heavy to write. But now it’s out there in world. Positive comments? Negative comments? Questions? Ask away.

XOXO, Therapy Tash

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7 Comments

  1. Charlee

    Thank you Natasha for your time, your cander, and your spirit. You are an amazing person, PT, and friend. I wanted to let you know you are loved for all that you are. Thank you for sharing this very personal post.

  2. Sherrie

    You are amazing Natasha! Thank you for sharing. I always looked to you as the beautiful smart women you are. I am so proud of you and who you are and all of your achievements with many more to come for you.

  3. Bach

    Being biracial, you shouldn’t have to pick which side you represent and shouldn’t feel as though you had to follow along with (and identify yourself through) micro-aggressive racist remarks, even if you think people don’t know any better. It’s only when you voice your thoughts, opinions, and experiences that people can truly learn from their mistakes and grow from them. I’m sorry you had to experience racism throughout your life growing up, but I’m very proud that you’ve changed the narrative of you being the “whitest black girl”, because really, you are so much more than that. Some days will be harder than others, so it goes without saying that you have us as your strong support system backing you up on those days whenever you need us.

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