Being Black at Winsor: How It Feels and What It Means

By, Araybia A-G. ’19

The surprise. The uninhibited, almost intrusive curiosity is what I remember most. When I came to Winsor in sixth grade, it was not as if I had never been around white people before. Despite coming from a predominantly black public school, I had been around different cultures, races, ethnicities, and yet I had never felt as uncomfortable as I did when I came to Winsor. The culture shock was awkward. It felt as if my classmates had never been around a black person before. I am sure they must have seen or spoken to someone like me, but sharing a space, sharing a classroom, sharing a team, made them feel like our interactions provided a platform to ask anything that they have ever wanted to know about a black person, no matter how offensive. Just to give a glimpse, they would ask how I got my hair to look the way it did, they’d ask if Dorchester was dangerous and why my mom was so strict, and I even remember someone asking me what black people usually ate. This constant curiosity and examination was unnerving to me, and I felt like a specimen under exhibit. I was so tired of being observed, so I tried to tone down my differences: blow dry my hair, wear the same clothes, even speak with the same “like” after every 4 words in my sentences. I even stopped wearing my Jordans to school for a while — a real low point.

For a while it felt natural, until I realized that I had forgotten what natural really was. I was reminded by my mother that natural is who you really are, with no additional additives, derivatives, artificial coloring or flavors. She reminded me that when you go into a room where everyone is talking, if you close your eyes, the people in the room should not all sound the same, and if they do, that means that the majority of them have lost their voice – for we are not all meant to sound the same, or be the same, and we don’t have to explain who we are; we can just be. Ever since I pressed reset, I have focused on maintaining who I am while still getting the most out of my school environment. I can say now that being black at Winsor is not much different from being any other student. I am the same Araybia at school as I am at home.

After reflecting on my own experience, I wondered how other people of color felt at Winsor. Surely I was not the only voice that had something to share. In order to get different perspectives, I sought out those of my peers. What I found was that although we can all relate to each other in some ways, we also have our own unique experiences. We each have a background that is not identical. However, one commonality among us was our feeling that people assumed we were all the same just because we share the same brown skin tone.

One of my peers, Chloe Duval ’19, told me that her experience coming to Winsor was a little different. “I came from an even more white school with only 15% of their students being nonwhite. I came from a school on the North shore. I was the only Latin person in the entire school and there were only five other black people in the entire school. I was excited to come to Winsor because I thought it would be different, but I still felt singled out. I remember in class, a Winsor teacher singled me out and asked me what it was like to be a black person. She thought I could add a different perspective to the class discussion, but it made me feel uncomfortable and alone. Winsor is better with diversity in terms of numbers, but it can sometimes be just as as isolating as a school with a 15% diversity.” Victoria Cadostin ’19 also expressed that she felt the need to assimilate when she came to Winsor: “I felt like I was tailoring my life to be like a typical Winsor student. Certain aspects of my life and my identity felt like they didn’t fit into that mold. I wanted to normalize my experiences to other Winsor students. Coming from an immigrant family, I remember other students inviting me to sleepovers, which my parents did not allow me to go to. A common immigrant parent thing, or at least at my house, sleepovers were not allowed. But I would make up excuses to my friends about why I couldn’t do certain things. They wouldn’t understand.”

Even though we are just a few voices representing the black experience at Winsor, we echo many common feelings and understandings that other black students may have experienced at some point in their time here. Even after I’ve adjusted to Winsor I am sometimes reminded by that feeling of not being understood. But, by being myself I have found comfort. By talking to other girls who understand and can relate to me, I don’t feel alone. I want younger girls who may be experiencing a similar bumpy transition into Winsor to feel safe and and to know that they are not alone. The urge to assimilate will lessen and eventually dissipate as one lets their own light shine.