The #OrganycUSAuthentic series shares stories of motivated, ambitious women throughout the USA, who overcome obstacles to then give back to the community. Determined to represent “Authentic” in its most genuine definition, we asked Nikki Hopewell to define authentic based on her personal journey.
From the Outside … In
Growing up black in a predominantly white, Jewish suburb required a lot of chutzpah. I didn’t know how to extract that type of personal confidence. But I did know one thing: the less I stood out, the better. Or so I thought.
As a middle school student, I precariously straddled two worlds: black and white. The white world was filled with bright, upper-middle class and wealthy suburban-trendy kids. The black world was filled with bright, middle to upper-middle class, urban-trendy kids.
The white kids didn’t really exclude me, but they weren’t really inclusive either. I remember being in the locker room changing into my shorts for gym class one time. A white classmate was shocked to see I had hair on my legs. “You don’t shave?” she asked with a look of horror. Middle school shame and embarrassment engulfed me.
I already felt like an outsider, but this incident made me even more hyper aware that I was different, and for me at the time, survival meant blending in. As soon as I got home, I asked my mom if she could buy me razors to shave my legs, so I wouldn’t have to endure further humiliation. Cue the razor bumps.
The black kids saw that I was black, but I did not fit their narrow definition. I talked “proper” (like white people), dressed suburban trendy (decidedly un-hip) and was in Honors classes (aka nerdy). They gave me a hard time. Often. As if I had picked the wrong team.
However, neither side really wanted me on its team. To the white kids, I was like them, but not close enough to really include me in their lunch table chats, gym discussions or hallway locker sessions. However, I was good enough to get invited to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, since it was assumed I could dance. And I did, very well. I felt like a prop set up for their amusement.
To the black kids, I was a sellout, and when I tried to get in on conversations, they would highlight how I’d say something (“You talk white.”) or consider me “bougie,” a term for an uppity, snobby black person. To them I was not quite black enough.
I was lost in the in-between—and for a long time, simply never felt like enough—of anything.