Tyler Toussaint

Professor Fife
College Writing 1

"My Life, My Story"

Throughout primary school, I was called names such as ‘burnt bake,’ ‘black boy,’ and ‘tar baby’ only because I was darker than everyone else. One of my classmates went on to tell me that when my mother was pregnant with me, she spent too much time in the sun which resulted in my complexion being what it is. At the tender age of seven, I had no clue what race was; no one ever mentioned it to me. I simply just thought I was a victim of classic bullying.

I first learned I had a race when I was fourteen years old in history class. The topic was slavery. My teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, taught about the Caribbean slave trade and the Haitian revolution. Those discussions were captivating; I wanted to know more (not only because the revolutionary leader had the same name as me). During my online research on the aforementioned topic, I discovered that my skin color was not due to the sun, it was genetic. In fact, I belonged to a race. I am black! I am of African descent! This is my identity! Being black in school, I was hindered from expressing my identity through my hair because I had to conform to the institution’s Eurocentric policies. I could not wear an afro but the Caucasians could grow their hair as lengthy as they would like. I could not have a fade hairstyle but the Caucasians could. I decided to question my secondary school vice principal about it. On that day, my vice principal was in charge of my math class; he taught circle theorem. When class was over, he walked up to my desk and told me that I had to cut my hair. I was perplexed because I had just gotten a fresh haircut over the weekend — a fade. I looked at him weirdly and told him that my next haircut will not be until four more weeks. He then gazed at me for a short while and informed me that my hair was too tall and went against the school’s dress code. I did not hesitate to point out other boys in the class who clearly had taller and longer hair than me. At this point, the whole classroom was focused on our conversation. Why don’t they have to cut their hair? Aren’t they breaching the dress code also? These were valid questions which I asked that lead to the most unexpected, discourteous and discriminatory comment I’ve ever been told: “You can’t grow your hair and have that haircut because your hair isn’t quality.” In that moment, I vowed never to cut my hair again whilst at school. I left the classroom baffled and disgusted.

Currently, I am an international student from the beautiful island of Saint Lucia. Everyone I communicate with can tell that I am not from the United States of America because of my exotic accent. For some reason, people assume that English is not my first language. I remember, during my cornerstone class, I was asked to read a few paragraphs about Saint John Baptist de La Salle to the class’s hearing. After eloquently performing the aforementioned task, my professor praised my efforts by saying, “Wow! You articulate very well for a non-native English speaker.” For a brief moment, I was completely nonplussed then replied with a meh, “Thank you,” while saying to myself, ‘Bro, English is my first language.’ Reflecting on the situation now, I think my professor may have assumed that English was my second language because in the prior class, I helped him pronounce some French words and translated some French texts.

I was subject to the stereotype that all black people were good at sports. I was on my primary and secondary school’s soccer and track team every year without trying out or attending practice. I was pretty good at sports but…stereotype? My white teammates thought it was black privilege and they probably were right. If not for my coach’s stereotypical belief, I would not have been exposed to sports and discovered my sporting talents. That early exposure to sports allowed me to become the amazing athlete I am today.

The experiences I have had because of my identity are not the best, but they have shaped me into the individual I am today — an individual that I am proud of.

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