Vallen Ellis

Vallen Ellis

By Vallen Ellis

Ellis is a student at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

I come from the City of Norton, and I am an intern with Virginia Organizing, which has given me a perspective to consider the effects of unconscious bias on people of color.

Growing up as a biracial woman in the Appalachian mountains, I struggled to find my own identity. The area is predominantly white, and there are not many others who have my skin tone or texture of hair. The sides of my family are split into two races, and unfortunately no one could relate to my struggles on either side. This was discouraging for me at a young age. Every other girl in my class had long, straight hair that reached their mid-back. However, I had short curly hair that bounced and kept its shape no matter how I moved. I wanted to look like my classmates, and I was never told to think otherwise.

My mother’s white side of the family never took the time to learn about my hair type. There was no knowledge passed down on how to properly care for or style my hair. My father tried to do as much as he could, but it was his mother who took on the biggest role.

My nana on the black side of the family grew up in an era of relaxers and perms. During most of her life the natural look and the afro were not in style. Relaxers were a way to tame “nappy hair,” a quick and easy fix. Relaxing hair created endless possible styles for black people. This hair would closely resemble the hair of a white woman because of the straight, pressed look it created.

Throughout my childhood and puberty I unknowingly damaged my hair with heat and different treatments that were suggested to me. Once I attended college and separated myself from that regular routine, I began to meet others who share similar backgrounds and features as me. I began to let my curls show and recognize my beautiful hair that God had given me. I have thrived ever since.

In college I was embraced by a community of people who were the same generation as me and shared similar stories. It was then that I realized there was beauty in diversity. I am not alone in this experience, and I’m writing about it so that more people will become aware.

Transracial families need to be more mindful of their decisions and how they plan to integrate both cultures into the lives they share with their children. The impact on the child, their mental health, and their interactions with the world could be transformed.

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