A Shorewood High School junior and Reagan High School senior discuss being biracial.
‘Why Do You Sound So Ghetto?’
Laila Branch, Shorewood High School junior
Freedom Gobel, Reagan High School senior
Laila Branch and Freedom Gobel didn’t know each other before the September day they met up at Freedom’s school on Milwaukee’s South Side. Halfway into their hourlong conversation, they were finishing each other’s sentences – literally.
Freedom plans to study journalism next year at Northwestern University. Laila is president of Shorewood’s Youth Rising Up student group.
Both of their moms are educators, and they’re both part of their respective schools’ black student groups. Laila and Freedom are also both of mixed descent: Laila’s dad is black and her mom is white; Freedom’s dad is white and her mom is black. The teenagers bonded over that background and their subsequent shared experiences: unique hair issues; divergent family get-togethers; and being “kind of stuck in the middle” racially, culturally and socially. – Moderated by Adam Rogan
Read more conversations in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine’s cover story: Let’s Talk It Out.
Read an extended version of this conversation here:
LB: I am glad I went to Shorewood in the sense that it’s given me a good education, but when it comes to relationships, race issues and things like that –
FG: Any social aspect is tough.
LB: Yeah, it’s horrible. My black friends, they’re like, “Why are you talking like that? That’s so white. Why are you saying that?” Or I say something around my white friends and they’re like – I’ve actually had a girl say, “Why do you sound so ghetto?”
FG: At Reagan, it’s interesting because most of the people are Hispanic, so it’s not uncommon for me to be the only black person in the room. And it’s tough, having conversations in history where we have to talk about slavery. Or we’re talking about a lynching in recent news and everyone’s like, “Let’s hear the black perspective. Let’s have the black girl speak.” You want me to speak for an entire population? It’s important for people to realize that there isn’t just one black perspective.
LB: My brothers and sisters are all full black, my dad’s kids. So when I’m with my sister, I don’t look like her at all, and people are like, “Your little sister? What?” And especially at Shorewood, I’m kind of stuck in the middle. I hang out with mostly black kids, but I pretty much talk to everyone, because I’m forced to because I don’t have a set group that I can go to. Sometimes, I’m with my white friends and they’re like, “Why do you act like that? Why do you talk like that? Why do you eat like that?”
FG: You’re too white to be black and too black to be white.
LB: In society, it’s all stereotypes. The stigma within the community of African-Americans, especially the women, that we all have attitudes. We’re all angry all the time. We’re always yelling about something. And then about the men, they’re violent, they’re irrational.
FG: If you think about it, black women have every right to be angry. They got the short end of the stick for gender, they got the short end of the stick for race.
LB: Yeah. Literally the bottom of the barrel is the black woman. And a lot of times we African-Americans turn to bully someone else because we’ve been bullied. A lot of African-American boys and men in Shorewood antagonize the LGBT community, because they’ve been put down by the white man. And so now they have to find something to put other people down. It’s a whole violent and vicious circle and it should stop.
FG: In terms of how I act depending on which family I’m with: I’ve come to realize I’m not not being myself, I’m just a different version of myself. So I have my black mom, my white dad and then the four mixed kids. I tell my mom and my dad all the time, “You guys are the minorities in this house.” There’s just four little mixed kids running around, right? I’m the most comfortable with mixed people just because they understand the struggle of being split in two. It wasn’t until recently that I could check more than one box for race on an application. I had to choose. Am I going to be white? Or am I going to be black? Which one is going to get me the job? Which one is going to get me into this program?
LB: I mean for scholarships, I’m going to check the black box.
FG: Black always. Or “other” works too. Exotic, you know?
LB: I hate that so much because I’m not one or the other. I am both.