I (H)ate Soggy Symbolic Cookies. Oreos are Better.

6 AM and I’m craving Oreos. It’s literally been years since I’ve eaten one… or been called one. By the time you get to college, all the black people on campus are probably the ones who were called Oreos, so there’s no one around anymore to dip you in a glass of milk. I always hated dipping cookies in milk anyway. The cookies just seemed to disintegrate in the milk, and all the sweetness washed away.

Oreo: n. a person who looks black on the outside but must be white on the inside because he or she acts white.

I thought about putting quotation marks around the words black and white, but I didn’t because the people who use the term Oreo don’t put quotation marks around those words. They don’t think of black and white as socially constructed labels for physical appearance, social norms, stereotypes social expectations, and the geographic region from which our ancestors come from. They think “black” is really just black and that “white” is really just white.

You might wonder why I don’t mention red, brown, or yellow. I don’t mention them because people who use the term Oreo don’t eat apples, coconuts, or bananas. Actually, they don’t eat any fruit; they only eat junk food. They can’t even imagine what a balanced diet could do for their health.

For me the spectrum was two dimensional. The outside of me was literally like the trademark chocolate of an Oreo. I mean, “too black to be wearing them bright colors” kind of chocolate.  The “inside” of me, my behavior at school, was reminiscent of what they’d observed of some white kids, and white is the trademark color of the cream filling inside of Oreos.

So what kind of behavior is Oreo cream behavior, and what kind isn’t? I’m all to eager to answer that question because it will lead to something resembling the distant cousin of analysis (provided you’re willing to read any further). I’ve made a chart classifying in-school behaviors as either Oreo Cream or Non Oreo Cream. This brief list is based on my personal experience and is not comprehensive, so don’t go off on me if it doesn’t align with every minutia of your personal experience, K.

Oreo Cream Behaviors Non Oreo Cream Behaviors
enjoying school putting all your energy into not enjoying school
making relatively good grades avoiding good grades at all costs
not fighting, whether you were afraid to or not fighting if you weren’t afraid to and talking a lot of noise while conveniently positioning yourself behind someone who might hold you back if you were afraid
being friendly with anyone regardless of race sticking to your own or occasionally harassing the others
not knowing all the popular hip hop songs and dances, though you may know some knowing all the popular hip hop songs and dances
being quiet and doing your work even when the teacher is not in the room being loud and not doing your work even when the teacher is in the room
reading for fun pretending that books are Kryptonite

This is the best my memory will do considering how long it’s been since I’ve been in the school environment. Oh, wait, I’m a teacher. But there’s no telling what kids are thinking, saying, or doing these days… except when the say and do stuff.

What I’m trying to say is that as long as black students believe failure and trouble are their birth rites, the problems facing the black community (and really the whole world) will persist.

Though some taunts hurt like sugar in a cavity, being called an Oreo never hurt my feelings (though eating Oreos often hurt my teeth). What hurts is seeing my kids buy into the notion that school is not for them; that blackness is synonymous with ignorance and violence; that they descend from people who shout and dance but never study and create languages, history, math, science, or architecture. Imagine all the enjoyment they miss believing they’re biologically inhibited and socially prohibited from enjoying all types of music, books, food, cultures, languages, places, and ideas.

Sure. By the time a student sits in my classroom as a seventeen year old freshman in high school, maybe school isn’t for him at the moment. That doesn’t mean it had to be that way. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There’s nothing inherent in him that makes him fail in school. It’s a combination of his circumstances, his thoughts and feelings about his circumstances, and his actions or responses to his circumstances.

Then there are teachers, trying to be vessels for a higher power great enough to affect the delicate lives of youth in a city with some of the highest poverty and crime rates in the U.S., and really, is any cookie smart enough to do that?

With love, from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand? (If it’s an Oreo cookie, I want one.)

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