Growing Up Black in a Mostly White Town: A Teenager Speaks Out
Youth voices have played a key role in the anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd. Among them is Jendell Teixeira, who lives in Marion and has been speaking at local protests about growing up black in predominantly white towns.
The 18-year-old said she wants people to know that racism and police brutality aren’t just some other state’s problem. Teixeira spent her early childhood in Rochester and moved to Marion at about 10 years old.
“Looking back on it, it was a living hell,” she said. “There was, like, no black people, and half of the black people in Rochester and Marion I was either related to, or my family knew really well. So it was a lot of, like, little things, like getting called like “poop” because I'm black. Stuff like that.”
She said she experienced continual microaggression and bias. At one point she was the only black girl in school, and she felt very insecure.
She had a sense of culture shock moving between her Cape Verdean family and the nearly all-white schools.
“And, like, people just act different, and then you have to code-switch when you're home.”
She says sometimes relatives would joke that she was white.
“And that's, like, really diminishing to a black girl’s self-esteem growing up,” she said. She recalls them saying she acted like a white person because she went to a school that was predominantly white.
“So that was, like, the most difficult part for me,” she said. “It was like, at school I was too black, but at home, I wasn't black enough.”
Teixeira is graduating this year from Old Rochester Regional High School. For the fall, she intentionally chose a historically black university, Winston-Salem State.
“Because I was never surrounded by my people,” she said.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues, she said her message to people in communities that — like hers — are mostly white, is this: Have the difficult conversations. Learn, and teach others.
“Talk about it, read books, watch documentaries. Educate yourself, so when these difficult conversations happen, you're saying the right things to — whoever,” she said. “And just really be — if you're white or a non-black person of color, be an ally for a black person of color.”
She says people have to put in the work to change things. Sign petitions. And hold others — and yourself — accountable.