I often find myself questioning what it means to be black in America. Truthfully, that is a loaded question with many different answers. This is mine.
Growing up as a light-skinned African American girl is a peculiar paradox. I never quite knew where I fit. I was too “white-looking” to be fully accepted by those with darker skin, but too “black looking” to be fully accepted by my white contemporaries. For the entirety of my life I’ve attended overwhelmingly white schools while also attending a predominantly black church. This dichotomy presented me with the question of what is “black enough?”
I believe my blackness should not be measured by whether I listen to Taylor Swift or Kanye West; in fact I appreciate both artists. I believe my blackness should not be measured by whether I relax my hair or leave it in its natural state. My blackness should not be measured by the way I speak or dress. My blackness is a single piece of my identity, interwoven with an immense history or struggle, resilience and pursuit of the American dream. My blackness was gifted to me by my ancestors and their power courses through my veins every single day. My blackness is one piece in the puzzle of my self-discovery.
In my earlier youth, I used to question my every decision, worrying about how it would make me look, or how other people would view me. I still find myself falling into this trap because black people don’t have the luxury to simply be black in America. Tell that to Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin or any of the millions of their predecessors who were lynched that were denied their right to existence simply on the basis of the artificial construct called race that was created to silence and separate us. The three aforementioned modern victims are examples of how racism is more nuanced and complicated than what meets the eye. A select few of those given the responsibility to protect have the ability to hide behind a badge. Let it be noted that I respect police officers as a whole and appreciate their sacrifices made in the service of others. But those who abuse this power for self-satisfaction do not deserve the title of honor.
In my experience, there are two sides to being black — the ideological side and the reality. At this point in life, I’m lucky enough to be able to make a conscious decision to stop worrying about which stereotypes I fulfill or violate as a black woman; but the reality is that Tamir and Trayvon don’t get to make any decisions anymore because those in authority over them chose to believe in the fear and pain caused by stereotypes. Even still, caught in the purgatory between being “not black enough” and “too black” is where I find myself today — stuck between living my life and simply living.