Choose a side, Tana!
19 Nov 2019 2:09 PM
I am neither black nor white.
I’m Haitian American.
You could never tell from looking at me. Fitting in has never been in my DNA. I was born in Orange City, IA but grew up in the central plateau of Haiti where my dad was born and raised, and I was homeschooled from 1st grade to junior year. I moved to the US and lived with my best friend’s family for a year before beginning my adventure at Iowa State through the APEX program. Let me introduce myself properly, my name is Rithana Mompremier, but everyone calls me Tana. I’m a senior in agricultural engineering with a concentration in land and water resources. I am one of 23 females in my major and of those 23 I am one of two biracial girls. There are 9 undergrads of color in my program.
I’m constantly reminded that I don’t fit in when I walk into a room. I have never had the luxury of being the majority in the room. I constantly have to think, “will this group accept me for me, either for my light skin or dark skin?” So, I fall on some of my other identities. For one, the fact that I identify as female or that I love God and believe I am His beloved daughter.
I never knew what a micro-aggression was until my freshman year at ISU. I thought the side comments were normal. It didn’t feel right but I always just brushed it off and grew a thicker skin. Here’s an example, I never knew that touching a black girl’s hair was not okay because it happened to me all the time growing up. For white people, it was the fact that I had such curly hair. For Haitians, it was the fact that my hair was so long compared to everyone else. I didn’t want to make someone feel bad, but I didn’t know what to say either.
Being biracial makes me feel like I constantly must be an advocate for and educator of both, never picking a side, never condoning actions, always trying to understand the hate, ignorance, and injustice in this world. It’s exhausting, discouraging and lonely. But that’s not how I would ever describe my Iowa State journey.
So, why has my experience at ISU been immaculate? Has being different defined my time at Iowa State? Was it my academic success, the internship I did after Junior year, the paycheck that I will get during my first job, or becoming the first engineer in my family? Not really, my adventure at Iowa State has been defined by the people that I have met.
My heart bleeds for the pain and ignorance that I see on this campus every day. I want to do something to fix it. I’m constantly the one who gets to educate my white friends about what’s happening on campus or why certain phrasing is offensive. With my black friends, I play the devil’s advocate or the benefit of the doubt game, saying, “What if they didn’t know?” That was a question I’d been raised to ask.
Race is not clearly defined, for lack of better terms, it is not black or white, but gray. We are all characterized by it, yet we are not defined by it. So, I challenge you: what would our world look like if we looked past the color of our skin and instead looked at the unique individual who is underneath. Instead of being scared of what we don’t know be curious about what could be learned and experienced. Seeing ignorance as a chance for education. Smiling at a person instead of looking terrified. If we were to all take a look inwards first then look outwards, would the experience on our great campus look different? Personally, I believe so!
I’m so proud to be black and proud to be white. I reap the benefits and the sorrows of both. I have white privilege, but people see me as a Black women. I love each of my parent’s rich cultures and backgrounds. I don’t regret any experiences that I’ve had ‘cause I they’ve help me see what it means to be in the middle.