We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofSophie Nerine

Part 1 of the Dream: Deep Sleep

I had a dream when I was six or seven. Not a Martin Luther King Jr. dream, a nighttime dream. Really, it was more of a nightmare.

My (nonexistent) brother and I were being chased, hunted by a goddess. She had been sent to stalk us by a man who lived in a cave on the border between India and China. The (also nonexistent) goddess was Hindu, beautiful, with dark skin and brown eyes, and was trying to murder us. 

I, on the other hand, like my dream brother, was white. I had milky brown hair and pale, pale skin. When I am awake, my skin is much darker. I think I have the color of skin white girls dream of when they go to tanning salons. And my hair is almost black.

I am half-Indian (the one in Asia) and half-white, but when the world is filled with pictures of white girls, it’s easy to think you are one. TV shows, movies, magazine covers; they all display girls with fair skin at the forefront; everyone else recedes into the background. 

Part 2 of the Dream: Eyes Begin to Flutter Open

Bits and pieces of light slowly filtered through my eyelids. Sometimes just photons, they illuminated the world around me, little by little. I began to realize that there were some questions my white friends would never be asked. “What are you?” and the following, shocked, “Really?” would not be an issue for them. No one would assume they were adopted or play guessing games with their race.

Still, when I wrote stories, the heroines were almost always white girls with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes. When I watched movies, I could identify more with the white girl than the brown one. 

Part 3 of the Dream: Wide Awake; All it is, is a Memory Now

When my eyes are wide open, when I am surrounded by sun, it's hard to remember what that dream world was. I was there just moments ago, but time is elastic and I feel like it’s been an eternity. I am awake, fully and completely. But the sunlight I am bathed in isn’t always warm and fuzzy; mostly, it is harsh, intense, uncomfortable. 

2020 brought many things: a pandemic, a presidential election, and a resurgence of Black Lives Matter. In the past it had been a movement that the mainstream pushed to the side, but last summer, Black Lives Matter was at the top of everyone’s minds and on the front of every newspaper. With the amount of attention racial issues were getting, came the podcasts, magazine articles, even TV shows and movies. When the internet, airwaves, and television were overflowing with information on race, I began to see my perception of myself with some clarity.

The art of creating diversity in media like books and television, as well as in the public sphere, may not have been perfected quite yet, but we’re getting there. The vast majority of people in power are still (older) white men. But this year the first Asian woman won best director at the Oscars. This year, the first woman to hold the office of vice president is a black and Indian woman. This year, the first woman and first black person became acting mayor of Boston.

When I was younger, I thought of myself as a white girl, had dreams as a white girl, wrote stories as a white girl, because that was what was placed before me. I could see no mirror image in a movie or magazine so I assumed that what was there was my reflection, despite it looking nothing like me. That, like the landscape of America, is changing.

© Sophie Nerine. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.