Leading up to the year of me going to high school I remember experiencing feelings such as excitement, curiosity and gratitude, and contentment. Little did I know that would not be the case for most of my high school career.
Attending an elite South African high school is a privilege, right? But the best of both worlds is just an illusion. According to Thomson (2016), those who have ‘made it’ against the educational odds are still scarred by the experience. I had the honor of receiving an academic bursary. It looked good on the outside with my report cards being proof of how much I appreciated having access to quality education. For the first three years of high school, I was the only person of colour in my classes. Nobody treated me badly or looked at me awkwardly because I changed who I was for the good.
When I was at school, I could not be too coloured and at home, I could not be too white. Elaborated vs restricted code (Panofsky, 2003). It was impossible to enjoy being both at home and at school, it was exhausting to be quite honest. My father would constantly tell me it is fine to be the best version of myself, but I knew my high school needed a different version of Mégan. This is what I call a coping mechanism.
It would start with small things such as an English oral about our June vacation. Most of my classmates travelled abroad, while we just spend one week at the beach. My classmates would tease me for not knowing what a cruise boat looks like on the inside.
In class, I was constantly faced with the reality that I was different like it was a sin. One time I was ill and absent from school for a few days when returning the accounting teacher asked me rhetorically why I was absent and answered the question for herself which was: I was home since there was no one to look after my younger siblings and maybe we did not have electricity at home. I was so shocked by her response I just said “ok” and walked into class. I was used to this: being judged according to my skin colour I mean.
During the swimming class, everyone was amazed that I would swim. Afterward, I took off my swimming cap and the girls would laugh at my hair. My hair curled while being wet and before it was straight. Sometimes I would laugh with them and afterward cry in the bathroom. Do we learn to cope with it, or do we just adjust to the form?
In my five years of being in high school, one thought was on my mind daily. What is the use of having access to equality schooling, but I have spilt personalities to fit in: cultural expectations for low-income and minority learners remains a major challenge if education is ever to achieve the ideal of equal opportunity and social justice (Panofsky, 2003: 18). I cannot be myself and I would not care to be different in any way. I was undergoing an identity crisis no one was aware of. It was a case of maintaining peace. Peace of mind.
In grade 12 I decided to be myself at school and home the complete version of Mégan. Too little too late one would say. It only gets better! I would say. Staying true to my self was not easy most of the time but rewarding . I tell myself daily: “Mégan you did not come this far to only come this far”.
Photo credit: Photo provided by the storyteller.