A Short Story About a Lifetime of Injustice

by Jessica Neyhouse

I grew up in a predominantly white community and, being white myself, honestly, I never really saw many issues with the community’s attitudes toward people of color. However, my best friend of twelve years, an African American girl, opened my eyes to many of the issues that she herself had been facing her entire life. I genuinely had no idea that her and others that looked like her were facing such atrocious attitudes toward them and it made me feel ignorant that I had never noticed. I was fifteen at the time. This is my reflection on some of the things that I wish I had noticed sooner.

For purposes of this story and to keep her anonymity, let’s call my best friend Jenna. Like any middle school aged girls, Jenna and I loved taking pictures together wherever we went. Whether it was a selfie or a nice picture of us standing taken by a stranger with the backdrop of the ocean, Jenna would never approve a picture without editing it. I could tell she had to be self-conscious about something, but Jenna was beautiful, and everybody knew it, even without a filter. Years later as I reflect on this experience with Jenna, I realize how frustrated I would get when she took fifteen minutes to post a picture because she needed to make sure that she looked perfect. I also realize that it wasn’t anything about the way that she looked in that specific photo that Jenna was trying to hide. She was trying to lighten the color of her skin. Jenna was editing every photo to make herself lighter because she knew that the only people who were going to see this photo were the white people at our school. Jenna didn’t like standing out like that. I wish I could have noticed this sooner.

Jenna had to face the struggles of feeling like the odd one out in many situations. When we were ages 13 to 16, Jenna lived with my family and me. She would come on vacations, to soccer tournaments, on road trips, to the grocery store, and everywhere else along with us. She was part of our family and nobody inside of our family circle questioned it or saw her as different. Nobody in our family saw her as different than us, so much so that we became numb to the comments that others made about Jenna going everywhere with us. People would call her my “black friend” or “the black sister/daughter in the family”. It certainly made me uncomfortable at the time when people would refer to my best friend by the color of her skin rather than the name that she was given but I will forever wish I would have said something to those people. I wish I would have had the difficult conversations with others in my community rather than let my best friend endure the idea that people might actually only see her as the color of her skin. I wish I could have told her in those moments that I see her as so much more and I wish that I could have made everyone else see her as so much more as well.

These are just two examples picked out from the twelve years of being best friends with Jenna. These are just two examples from the lifetime of judgement that Jenna has and probably will still face for the rest of her life. As white people, we need to do better. We need to have the difficult conversations with others. We need to stand in solidarity with people of color and say, “no more”. We need to live our lives for our friends of color, swallow the pride that we so do not deserve, and realize that we have been in the wrong for just about all of our existence. It is time to face our white fragility and make an actual change. We should all be tired of the injustices in our society today. It is time to stand up for our friends.