I Don’t Fit Your Stereotypes. So Why Can’t I Escape Them?

As an African-American teen, I often feel like I’m walking around with a big target sign on my head.

I’ve never stolen before. But when I’m shopping, I often get followed around stores by staff members. It makes me feel so uncomfortable. What are people seeing that broadcasts I can’t be trusted?

I already know the answer. It’s an ugly stereotype based on the color of my skin. I want to turn around and ask, “Is there a problem?” But I don’t want to escalate the situation.

Being young just makes it worse. People mistrust teens. Even though we do lots of positive things, it’s only the negative that gets attention.

When I hear stories about teens behaving badly, I take it personally. I want to say to them, you’re just confirming people’s worst assumptions.

When I go places it feels like I have to be extra careful with what I do and how I do it. I try to not to give people the opportunity to make assumptions about me.

If people look past my age and my skin, what would they see? A caring, sensitive teen girl. Trying hard to build an identity past the stereotypes.

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