Breaking the Cultural Barrier By Roxanne Bayer (Age 18)

Roxane Bayer copyStarting high school is probably one of the most thrilling yet terrifying experiences you will ever have. You have a preconceived idea of what it will be like, the memories you’ll take from it, and lastly, but definitely the cherry on top, the friends that you will make. This was how I approached my grade 8 year. I was terribly excited about finally being in high school, one step closer to bringing my schooling career to an end, but my enthusiasm was abruptly brought to a stop.

The class I was divided into was filled with white kids! I had previously been in a school with many black and brown children, with absolutely no white ones. Understanding this concept would be easier if you, like me, come from Namibia, particularly my city, Windhoek.

You see, because of Apartheid, a system of segregation, many years ago, people of different ethnicities still live in different neighbourhoods of the city. Thus, you generally go to the school closest to you, leading me to spend my seven years in primary school surrounded by people and children that looked like me. For high school, I started at a school closer to the centre of the city. I knew I would be faced with children of many different races, but I had not expected to be the only non-white girl in my class (describing me as brown would, again, be easier to understand if you lived somewhere in Africa, for we could be described as mixed race, but the “mixing” of races started decades ago).

So there I was, the only brown girl (with just two other brown boys), surrounded by people who all knew each other and were already friends. Being an introvert didn’t help the matter either. I wanted to make friends, but I couldn’t find myself to cross the racial barrier. I never felt so insecure about my race in my entire life. I considered changing classes, hoping to be perhaps placed in a class with a little more variety, but this task would prove to be difficult because of my subject choices.

My insecurity grew in the time to come. In all class photos one could clearly see that I was an odd one. My hair was darker and much, much thicker, and my skin was browner. My eyes as well – where all the other girls had light-coloured eyes, mine were dark brown. The differences between us weren’t only on the outside, though; you could hear it too. I had a different accent, and I pronounced words differently. When we had to do orals in English, I was fine (for the most part) because we all sounded pretty much the same, but when we had to do them in Afrikaans, my native language, I cringed, because you could clearly hear that I was not one of them (I still find it funny that we live in one city, but each race has their own way of speaking).

My entire grade 8 year continued like this. I would talk to almost no one during class, sit with friends who looked and sounded like me during break, and continue to remain silent when classes commenced. I felt inferior. I don’t know why I did, because looking back now, some of them would sometimes start a conversation with me, but I hardly talked so they wouldn’t hear how I sounded. Sometimes in class they played games, and sometimes I played along, but I never became friends with any of them. Even in grade 9, I had more interaction with them, but still we never became friends, so every break I would still sit with the people who looked and sounded like me.

As time passed, I slowly became happier in the class I was in, not wanting to switch anymore, but I still felt different. It was not until grade 11 that I became friends with these people. During this time I realised that the reason I could never build friendships with them was entirely because of me. I concentrated too much on why I couldn’t be friends with them instead of why I could. These children may have looked and sounded different than me, but that probably never bothered them as much as it did me (and I learned that they actually liked my thick hair, because it’s fun to play with).

So here I am, in grade 12, the only brown girl in my group of friends, but the happiest I’ve ever been. Instead of standing around break times with people who look and sound like me, I’m having fun with people who think like me. The number of similar interests we have is unbelievable, and I even found my best friend amongst these green-eyed, light-haired girls, because what made us friends wasn’t skin deep. Both of us regret the years wasted where we sat in the same class and never spoke, but we have the rest of our lives to make up for it by making the memories I’ve always wanted.

 

To read Roxanne’s post on Scholastic’s TeenBeing blog, click here!

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