Behind the glitz and glamor: junior Aaliyah Weston’s fight against black stereotypes
December 7, 2018
“Being a token black kid, not being allowed to be angry ever because people just know me as–”
Junior Aaliyah Weston pauses, searching for the right words before redirecting her line of thought.
“You know when kids say, ‘I have a black friend?’ I’m that black girl, so it’s really hard for me to maintain myself,” Weston said.
The student body knows Weston primarily as an actress, a dancer and the creator of a YouTube channel marching towards 5,000 subscribers. Internally, however, she feels pressure to never back down in the fight against prejudicial stereotypes that she claims a predominantly suburban community “definitely brush[es] under the rug.”
Weston’s typical day begins at 4 a.m.. Awaiting her is a 90 minute bus ride, seven-hour school day and after school activities ranging from the Running with Scissors improv and poms teams, until she finally departs campus around 8 p.m.
“I have [time] to get some of my schoolwork done right before poms starts and as soon as school ends. I get those hours in between, but I really try to do my work in class since I don’t get much time out of school,” Weston said. “There’s lots of things I can’t do just because I know it’s such a long drive here and long drive back home, but I try to do everything I can to stay [involved]. I definitely feel every day is like ‘You were put here for [a] reason, so you have to do exactly what you were meant to do.’”
Further complicating Weston’s already intricate schedule are challenges the average student living in the county might not have ever stopped to consider, namely, sporadic access to transportation.
“Travel is really hard. We try to get cabs for me, but sometimes those cabs are really late. It just depends on the situation so transportation is really, really hard. I think sometimes [the school doesn’t] worry as much as they should. We try to integrate but we really are very segregated,” Weston said. “I want to be positive about it because I think they’re really trying, but they’re ignorant towards it, they don’t realize. You have to go through it to know it and most people at this school definitely have not gone through the lifestyle of having to travel hours just to get to school—hours just to get a good education.”
Studies such as a 2008 Texas Tech University report cite inaccurate portrayals within mainstream American media and pop culture as a significant contributor to the development of black stereotypes.
“Black girls aren’t as aggressive as they are portrayed. We are more than just our skin color. There’s lots of things I’m a part of [in which] I’m the only black girl, so sometimes it gets really hard because I have to learn to adapt to everything and everybody,” Weston said. “Ignorance in some situations is bliss, but at school I think so many people aren’t educated on things and I try really hard to educate everybody. As my friend, I would never want you to feel uncomfortable so you should never want me to feel uncomfortable. There’s certain situations where people say things and they don’t know that they’re ignorant and I just have to educate them without getting angry.”
Weston, confronted by prejudicial rhetoric on a daily basis as a city student in West County, seeks to use her platform as a performer to dispel detrimental stereotypes about black women.
“I love being very expressive. If nobody else is talking, I’m going to talk. I love speaking out because you don’t always get the opportunity to be number one, and I want to show that black girls are more than the stereotype we are always portrayed as. When I’m in classes, I just love being energetic and being right in front of everybody showing that I’m more than that stereotypical black girl,” Weston said. “It’s more than just you and me, it’s more than just my lifestyle and your lifestyle. Everybody is here on Earth whether you like it or not, so you have to realize everybody’s position and I think that’s something we really need to realize.”
As a student in Ballwin, Mo., a municipality in which just one out of every 43 residents is African-American, Weston believes a general lack of awareness regarding the presence of white privilege exacerbates racial tensions and discrimination.
“White privilege for sure occurs. I wouldn’t want to host seminars because we already have ASAP [African-American Student Acceleration Program] where black kids get together and we talk about white issues and black issues in our households and families, but I feel like we all should get together,” Weston said. “Nobody will ever know until you tell them, and it’s really hard to change people’s minds on what they think because white people don’t realize that they have such a privilege and their lifestyle is very wealthy. Even if it’s not money wealthy, you have all these privileges and you don’t even understand it.”
Weston particularly felt a burden to avoid the pitfalls of black stereotypes when she was selected as a maid on the 2018 Homecoming Court, an experience that also entailed a sense of representing the entire black student body.
“Especially during Homecoming, I was really scared because I thought that if I was to slip up, then everybody would just think I’m a horrible person,” Weston said. “Before [Homecoming], I wasn’t as excited because I was like, ‘nobody here cares about this. Nobody cares about me going to this school,’ but once I got all that applause it was like, ‘Oh, I do matter and I’m a black girl making a change at Parkway West.’
“To black girls, I hope that I’m still influencing you to be the best you could be. To everybody, I just want you to continue to educate in a way where we all are one and we all stay integrated. Stay powerful, black girls, because you are.”