The first time I realized I was black was when a neighbor compared my skin to the color of feces. I was absolutely livid and stormed home immediately, running inside to tell my mom what had happened. The mother and child came over just minutes later to apologize profusely, but the damage had already been done. The comment not only brought my attention to the fact that I was different, but told me—whether the intention behind the comment was truly malicious or not—that my skin color was different in a way that society deemed negative.
I allowed their words to shape my identity for me
The racial aggressions only continued as I got older. My white friends constantly joked about how I was an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside). People would make “black jokes,” apologizing first, denying their own racism and then telling them anyways under the guise that they were “just kidding.” Once, during a game of Truth or Dare, I had a white friend ask me if I would choose to be white if I could. I distinctly remember a white boyfriend commenting that his friends said I was “pretty hot for a black girl”—a not-uncommon, backhanded compliment, and one incredibly offensive not only to me but to all black women, everywhere.
After growing up in a majority-white community with majority-white friends, it was once difficult for me to imagine a world in which I was made to feel consciously uncomfortable due to the color of my skin. Even in high school, when there were more black people around me and racist attitudes amongst white people became more apparent, it seemed like a non-issue. Sure, there were some situations and comments that made me upset, but I was used to it; it was all that I knew, so although it hurt, the casual racism I faced seemed like just another part of life.
It is through these things that I have healed
Looking back, I am overwhelmed with shock, embarrassment, and anger when I think about the things I allowed my white friends to say to me. I lacked then the respect and love that I have for myself and my identity as a person of color now. I allowed their words to shape my identity for me, spending most of my life feeling like I was lesser because of the color of my skin.
I have spent several years now working to undo the deep-seeded self-hatred I developed as a child. It is through the example of other incredible black women in my life; through the popularity of online movements like the Art Hoe Collective and Black Girl Magic; through the musical might of Beyonce, Solange, Kendrick Lamar, and other artists; through the power of black cinema like Moonlight, Get Out and Black Panther; through the constant reminder that Black Lives Matter. It is through these things that I have healed and reconnected with my identity, and it is through these things that I am now not only accepting but proud of the fact that I am a black woman.
My life is still filled with white people who pretend to understand
In college, things have not become any easier than they were in grade school. Yes, I am surrounded by friends who recognize the existence of different forms of racism and who, for the most part, work to educate themselves and undo the racist thoughts and attitudes embedded in them by growing up in a white-dominated society.
However, their ignorance of white privilege and lack of true regard for the stress faced by black bodies every day generally remains the same. They cannot understand the issues I face, as much as they might try. Comments are made and actions are taken (or, in times of protest, not taken) that are telling of their prejudices. And, because the problems I face do not directly affect them, there is still a tendency for those problems to be examined, but ultimately swept under the rug; discussed at length, but rarely acted on; considered, but never prioritized.
I am unapologetically black
My life is still filled with white people who pretend to understand, who refuse to admit their privilege, and who claim to be allies but talk without walking. They seem to forget who is sitting at the table next to them. They have grown too comfortable because they expect all people of color to fit their stereotypes. They do not view black people as complex, unique, and individual human beings but rather as an essentialized group.
I listen to the Strokes, so they are shocked when I bring up issues of racism that make them uncomfortable. I don’t “sound like a black person,” so they’re shocked that I can say the n-word and will reprimand them if they do so. And because I hang out with them, they seem to forget a crucial fact about me that I need them to understand: I am black.
Allow me to reiterate that once more so that there is absolutely no mistake or doubt about it: I am black.
I have always been black.
I will never stop being black.
I am unapologetically black.
To the white people in my life: remember who I am. I have spent my entire life being made to feel ashamed of myself, but I will not tolerate attacks on my identity any longer.
I will not be made into the “angry black girl”—an insulting stereotype used to silence black women from speaking out against racism. I will use my voice to call you out on your bigotry whenever it arises, knowing full and well that my feelings are valid and that there is no need for me to feel unreasonable or overly-aggressive for doing so.
If I tell you that you are being racist, take it seriously. Know that if you ignore, deny or contribute to the black struggle, it is noticed and noted. Do not be surprised when I confront you with the reality of my situation. And if my blackness makes you uncomfortable, then there is no place for you in my life.
So, allow me to say it just one last time, in case you somehow missed it along the way. Allow it to be heard, loudly and clearly. Allow me to remind you without interruption, confusion or hesitation: I am black. I am black. And that fact is not changing anytime soon.