If I could tell my 15 year old self of the joys that come with continuing on her journey, I think she’d believe me. In all that I’ve experienced throughout my adolescence, I’m certain that my belief in myself is what has taken me this far.
As I’m sure they are for many of us, my teenage years were difficult for me. My physical body was beginning to change; I was ‘late’ for puberty; and I was too intelligent for the cool kids. Although I was a spectacular person, my spectacular-ness was so different from everyone else’s that it felt alienating.
At age 13, I moved from Durham, North Carolina to Colonial Heights, Virginia. It was a significant transition because I was used to being in classrooms with at least 30% black students, whereas in Colonial Heights I was one of about 20 black students in the entire school. This put a damper on my style, and I felt that I had to switch-up who I was and the way I spoke. I became selective with the layers of myself that I brought to the table.
It was during this time that I mastered the art of code switching. As stated by Maya Lewis of Everyday Feminism, code-switching is most commonly defined by linguists as “the alternation between two or more languages, dialects, or language registers in the course of” a single conversation or exchange. It’s said that the best way to learn to do something is by actually doing it, again and again. During this transition time in my teenage years, I became so versed in code-switching that I could do it without noticing. In fact, I only noticed that I’d developed this gift–if you will–when I moved back to Durham, NC. I was re-enrolled into the Charter school I attended before leaving, which meant I was amongst the same class of students from Grade 6.
Going back to high school stirred up fright within me. I was scared that the other black students wouldn’t like me because I had spent so much time around only white people, becoming immersed in our cultural differences. I worried that now I’d have to unlearn all that I’d learned for the sake of fitting in spaces with people who didn’t look like me.
I was an extremely shy child, and my shyness stuck with me throughout this point in my journey. Being shy made me appear cold when I was truly just anxious. I noticed that anytime I spoke outside of a mixed setting, I’d be ridiculed for speaking “properly” or referred to incessantly as “Anna, the smart girl.” My self-esteem completely shattered, and though I did not identify it as such back then, I was being bullied for being different.
In part two of this post, I’ll talk more about my experiences with self-esteem as a teenager, as well as what I learned about how to build confidence. Stay tuned!