Learning to love the Skin I am in
Race is the dumbest thing that human beings have ever invented. That being said, I absolutely adore being black but it’s honestly taken me awhile to get here. Being black is confusing, to say the least. In one moment it fills me with joy because of our culture – our music, our dances, our lingo, traditions, and inside jokes. Joy from the pride I feel about our resilience and defiance in the face of constantly being threatened and devalued. In the next moment it fills me with sorrow because of how unfairly black people have been treated throughout American history. Sorrow because I saw the confederate flag every day of my young life in rural South Carolina – a reminder that there are some people who preferred when I was legally considered less than them. Sorrow because in my professional career, I’ve often been met with eyes that said to me “you don’t belong here”. Sorrow because I have to take being black into consideration when interacting with anyone who isn’t black. Sorrow because when you’re black, it often feels like the only thing you can ever be is black.
I used to hate being referred to as black because “black” things are associated with negative and bad. My hair is literally the only part of my body that is actually black so to be categorized as black always seemed more like an insult than an ethnicity or true description of what I look like. I didn’t like being called African-American either because, well, I’ve never been to Africa! Nor am I 100% sure that my immediate ancestors lived there. Now obviously, I have ancestors that lived in Africa at some point, but so does literally everyone else since we know that human kind originated in Africa. But what I mean is that I have no idea what country my people originated from. There’s this game I used to play with my non African-American friends where I would ask them what their ethnicity is and they’d tell me that they’re German or Scottish or Spanish or from some other country with a well recorded history and then I wait for them to return the question to me so I can say to them, “I’m just black.” “I’m just black” because like so many other African-American people, I have no idea what all ethnicities I’m mixed with even though it’s apparent that I’m mixed with several. “I’m just black” because for way too long, the only black history I really knew was slavery. I didn’t know that black people were all up and through medieval Europe and even became Knights, saints, and musicians in royal courts. I didn’t know that I had been preceded by great thinkers – scientists, doctors, explorers, and champions. I didn’t know because the country that I live in didn’t want me to know. The country that I live in tried it’s best to hide my history from me and instead generalize me and all those with my skin tone as “just black”. Being black felt like a curse for a long time, not because I longed to be another race because I never have; but because it seemed like being black only came with disadvantages and not just in America, but everywhere. Across the globe, people that are darker are oppressed the most but why? Why do we associate darkness with evil? Why do we see those with lighter skin as more beautiful than those who are darker? Why was I made to believe that what I am, what I can’t change, is bad? I haven’t figured those questions out completely, yet, but I have learned to embrace the skin that I’m in fully and without a modicum of guilt or shame.
When I was a senior in high school, I became infatuated with this white girl from a pretty prominent family in the area. To be clear, her being white had nothing to do with the infatuation — I’ve always been attracted to every flavor of woman but this one just happened to be Caucasian. We used to flirt with each other and talk quite a bit. I thought she was absolutely gorgeous — easily the prettiest girl I’d ever met at the time and I was determined to have her. One night, after about a two hour conversation on the phone, I mustered up the courage to tell her how I felt about her. I told her that I liked her and that I wanted to be with her and she told me that while she was attracted to me and liked talking to me, she could never date me because I am black. She said that her parents would disown her if she ever dated a black guy. I remember feeling so heartbroken and confused. Confused because I knew that she liked me because of how she acted around me. Confused because I knew that I had so much to offer. Confused because I was smart, generally considered attractive in school, pretty popular and athletic, all the things that most high school girls would be looking for in a mate but that wasn’t good enough. It would have been a lot easier for me if she would have said that she just didn’t like me like that or that she was interested in someone else but no, she couldn’t be with because of something that I couldn’t change. Something that ultimately had no affect on my worthiness. From that day forward being black became more of a burden than it had ever been before because it made it very apparent to me that my blackness spoke for me long before I had the opportunity to introduce myself. It made it apparent to me that being black means that a lot of doors will be closed in my face before I even get a chance to knock on them. It made me feel like less than a human being as being called “black” often did back then. Like nothing inside of me really mattered. Like the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I had were invalid. That my entire identity was based around this caramel colored shell. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t produce resentment in me. Not resentment for being black but resentment for race in general. Resentment towards everyone that fed in to the bullshit of there being different races and that we shouldn’t mix them. And not just resentment towards white people but toward anyone that perpetuated the idea that race made a difference. My mom used to say to me all the time growing up, “If she can’t use my comb, don’t bring her home” which also was confusing because she always had white friends. It just seemed like everyone around me was brainwashed and so I decided that my ideology would be that race isn’t real. Being black had brought me so much pain that I didn’t want to be it anymore. So, I tried to pretend that it didn’t exist but as I’m sure you well know, pretending things aren’t there doesn’t make them go away.
Seeing Mike Brown’s dead black body laying in the hot street for hours while his murderer stood over him like some hunter that had just earned a trophy and then hearing him being described as some sort of demon who didn’t deserve his life infuriated and radicalized me. Mike Brown’s murder changed my life drastically and I haven’t been the same since. Up until that point, I enjoyed the perks of being black but I still preached my “race isn’t real” message whenever I could. Up until that point, I was only black when it was convenient for me to be but largely avoided conversations and institutions based around blackness. But when Mike Brown got shot, something clicked inside of me and all that “race isn’t real” shit went out the window. I knew deep down that I could no longer run away from my blackness. I knew that I could no longer play the sidelines and pretend to be unaffected by race in a world that judges people by their skin color first and the words that they say second. Mike Brown getting shot inspired me to want to fight systemic racism and I knew that if I really wanted to help black people not be so oppressed, I needed to fully accept what I am. It was then that I realized that being “black” was a lot more than a category that was made up to oppress me. I realized that being black was my destiny and that the challenges that being black brought with it were blessings, not curses. I realized that I do know where I come from and that is a long lineage of fighters just like me. A long lineage of rebels just like me. A long lineage of dreamers just like me. I realized there’s so much strength in being black and that strength is a direct result of oppression because strength is built only through resistance. My heart became so full and so proud of my black skin because I realized that it’s not a burden but one of the biggest blessings that could have been allowed to me. Do I still think that race is a social construct created only out of insecurity to divide and control people? Absolutely. But I’ve learned that I can’t love myself if I don’t love the things that make me who I am and my skin color is a big part of who I incarnated in to this round. My skin color is the reason why that white girl in high school didn’t want to be with me but it’s also part of the reason why so many other white girls did want to — proving that it was a burden only when I allowed it to be. Racism honestly doesn’t even bother me like it used to because I’ve learned that racists don’t hate me, they hate themselves. I’ve learned that all hatred originates within the hater and that racists can’t face the hatred they feel for themselves and so they project it onto people that they don’t even know. I’m so grateful for the all the pain that being black has brought me because of the perspective and wisdom that that pain has allowed me. These days, I’m so proud of my blackness and not because I’m ignorant enough to believe that black people are the superior race because I know there’s no such thing but because “black” is another word that was assigned to my people to oppress them but it backfired. We were called black because black things are thought to be impure or evil but we took it and transformed it into being one of the most beautiful cultures this earth has produced. Black no longer carries a negative connotation for me because now I understand that black is not the absence of any color but instead the presence of all colors. Black is not the absence of life but instead it is the very essence of life. As spiritual people, I believe we’ve become obsessed with the word “light” but it’s so important to remember that our Universe and everything therein was birthed from darkness. Black is limitless, formless, infinite potential, and if that’s not me, I don’t know what is.
I know that there are now services that allow you to track your heritage and I may use one of them one day, just out of curiosity, but I’m in no rush because being “just black” is good enough for me these days. So many incredible people were “just black”, like me, and to be a part of their history is an honor and a privilege. I believe that knowing where you came from is nice and can really be helpful in achieving a (sometimes false) sense of identity. But you don’t have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going — you just have to know where you are. And I am here. It is now. And in the here and now, I am black and proud.