By Jasmine McDuffie
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
When I think about where I came from, it’s hard to pinpoint a single idea. My mother is white and my father is black, but I didn’t know what this meant at a young age. By the time I was two-years-old, my father was no longer in my life because my mother was scared of what might happen. I was raised by my mother and white grandparents from this time forward. At around the age of four, my mother began a new relationship and I now had someone to call “dad.” At that point in time, my grandparents were the ones that my twin sister and I felt were our parents. They got us involved with sports, dancing, extracurricular school activities and much more. When my mother moved in with my new father, my sister and I decided we wanted to live with my grandparents still and that’s exactly what happened. My grandparents did everything for us and still do today, and I’ll always remember that. At about the age of six, I started to wonder….where is my real dad? What happened? My mom would allow us to call our dad once in a while, where he would promise to buy us gifts, send money for us, maybe even come visit…but that was all a lie. After I went through these random conversations and nothing came of them, I grew a hatred for my father and decided I wanted nothing to do with him. So, I continued to live my life growing up in an all-white household, going to a public school, and excelling in sports at a young age.
By the time I was twelve years old, my mother got married to my stepfather and things were going to change. My white stepfather is a doctor and had job opportunities far away from my grandparents so we were going to be moving. My grandparents couldn’t bear to be far from their grandkids and they were going to make sure it didn’t happen. My mom, stepdad, twin sister and I moved only four hours away from my grandparents (Jamestown, NY) to Scranton, PA. At this point in time, I was devastated because not only were all of my friends at my old home but I also still wanted to live with my grandparents. As time went on I grew to love Scranton and all the friends I made.
The majority of my friends were white, so I didn’t always know how to express myself or react when someone would say something cruel to me. I continued my love for sports here and excelled because of my stepfather. From when I was a kid to now, my relationship with my stepfather has changed drastically. From hating the guy for being “strict” to loving him for being just that. I think about my life and how differently I would’ve turned out if my mom stayed with my real dad. When I turned 15 years old, my stepfather forced my sister and me to get jobs and we hated that because none of our friends were working so why would we? Little did I know that his forcing a good work ethic on me would develop me into the person I am today. He inspired me to do better and be better, with no excuses because someone somewhere has it way harder than I ever will. School is very important to him, and from a young age, he instilled the mindset in me to work hard. He is a Pitt alumnus, and I am following in his footsteps going here because I want to be successful, just as he is.
When I moved to Scranton, PA it was a big adjustment at first, but as I said before I made friends quickly and grew to love it. I went to a public middle/high school and I never felt different than anyone else. By the time I was in high school, there weren’t many black students and I slowly started to realize that not everyone is going to like me. I didn’t know or feel as if I was different until I started to get called names like the n-word, negro, dirty, etc. In class, in sports, and out in public I would be called things for the color of my skin and I just thought, “Wow, they don’t like me because of the color of my skin?” That was honestly outrageous to me and I didn’t know how to react so I just let it go. A time that I’ll never forget was when I was sixteen years old and I went to Target with my sister and mother. My sister and I were walking around on our own when we were in the same aisle as two girls that were younger than us. These girls started to say things to us that were quite rude so we decided to walk away. Shortly after, we are back with our mom still shopping when the manager comes up to us and tells our mom that we need to leave. We were confused and asked what was going on? When the manager proceeded to say that we were trying to kidnap the little girls bothering us in the aisle. She then continued to say that she has us on camera every weekend coming to the store and harassing people and trying to kidnap kids. My mom was shocked that this was coming out of the manager’s mouth considering we were practically kids and only went to the store with our mother. I had no idea that this incident occurred because we were black, and this is when our mom decided to have a talk with us. She said we need to prepare ourselves and be more aware that there are mean and racist people who will try and hurt us with words but that we should always stand up for ourselves.
As the next year continues and I deal with racist encounters, now knowing why people didn’t like me really opened up my eyes to the cruel world we live in. At the same time, I was struggling to know where I came from and what to say when these things happened. I decided I wanted to see my dad and my siblings that I hadn’t seen in so many years. My oldest sister actually reached out to me a few years back and we would talk here and there. I talked to her about meeting up, but I was always scared of how my family would react so I waited for the right time. My father lives in Buffalo, NY and coincidentally I also have family on my mother’s side that lives there. When I was seventeen, my sister and I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Buffalo and I secretly planned to meet up with my father and siblings. My little brother that I had never met was having a birthday party on the night of our visit. After visiting with family on my mom’s side, my sister and I went to the birthday party. It was a surreal experience. I didn’t know how to feel or act but it was nice to see my siblings and catch up. I talked to my father and the entire time he was talking about himself and didn’t ask much about me at all or what he has put me through. He bragged about how he takes care of my little brother and helps out the rest of my siblings with money, but it all seemed like a lie. He said he was sorry, but didn’t say what for. I knew the right answer was forgetting about his two wonderful twin daughters, but he would never admit that. At that moment, I realized that he hasn’t cared about us or wanted to get to know us the entire time but that’s something I needed to find out on my own. I came to the realization that my stepfather is more of a father to me than my real dad ever was and has also prepared me for the real world. I am a black woman in America that faces hard things every day that a white person will never face. I was raised in a white household where I didn’t necessarily learn how to react to these kinds of things the way I would in an all-black or mixed household. After the experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t change the way I was raised now or ever because I am a strong and independent person because of it.
Jasmine McDuffie is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Corporate Communications with a minor in Digital Media and plans to work for a tech/media company after graduating. In Jasmine’s free time she enjoys spending time with friends and family, staying active, skiing, and writing.