Being black in America is a different experience for each black person. Some have experienced direct forms of racism firsthand and even at very young ages. Some have experienced only indirect forms of racism. Some people have experienced little underlying comments or just have been in situations where the atmosphere is just uncomfortable. Then there are those who have dealt with it all.
I can’t speak for every black person in America, because as I said, every experience is different. This is why I’m going to be touching on my own personal experience.
In a way, I am one of the lucky ones to have not experienced direct racism or to have seen it from a very early age. I can also say, that I’ve been fortunate enough not to have personally experienced it directly. I do think that part of it is because I live in an area where places are either mostly black or a combination of races and ethnicities. Clearly, my entire city isn’t like that, but the areas I’m mostly in are. The schools I went to were typically a good mix of races. In a way, I do think that this kind of put me in a position where I could never fully grasp the feeling when I see it happening. Meaning, I feel it deeply when I see it happening to my people, but someone who has dealt with it personally feels it even deeper. I hope that I’m making sense when I say this.
Please don’t scold me when I say this (I have been scolded enough), but I’m the worst at paying attention to things around me. It’s part of my social anxiety issues with not liking to look people in the eyes when I walk or just avoiding people looking at my face in fear of people finding something about me to laugh at…which causes me to keep my head down a lot or buried in my phone. I say this to say that it might be the reason I maybe miss a lot of indirect points on racism such as looks, snickering, etc. With that being said, I’m clearly not oblivious. So, here’s my overall breakdown of being black and being in America, because just because I haven’t experienced it directly doesn’t mean I haven’t had talks, felt uncomfortable, or had fears.
Wanting hair not of my own.
Growing up, I always kept my hair straight. So much so that people assumed my hair was naturally straight. In middle school, I had kids tell me that I had white people’s hair. I used to get so annoyed, not because I didn’t want white people’s hair, but because I wished I had it. I have such beautiful BLACK textured hair, and I didn’t even want it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I mentioned it in my recent podcast. I hated the way there was a dent in my hair after putting it in a ponytail or the way it turned into a poof when it got wet or when I sweat. It annoyed me and all I could think about was how white people didn’t go through that.
My first “talk”.
As I recall, I’ve never been given the talk as a kid about being black and what it meant…until 7th grade. It wasn’t from a family member either. Instead, it was from my 7th grade teacher(who was black). I really wish I could remember her name because she was an amazing teacher and I believe she taught literature. I don’t exactly remember what set her off. Maybe we weren’t speaking up much on a subject we should’ve been speaking up on, or maybe we had low test scores, whatever it was…it set her off. To this day, I’ve never seen a teacher do this. She told all the students who were white to leave the room and stand in the hall. Then she gave us the talk of our lives. I will never forgive my bad memory for forgetting the words she said to us, but I remember the moment enough to know it was eye-opening and showed how their experiences, their privileges, etc. are different from ours and that we have to work two if not three times as hard. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget that moment for as long as I live. It’s also eye opening that we as black children have to be given that talk, but they don’t.
Being called an “oreo”.
I’ve discussed this term before in a past post titled: Why You Shouldn’t Use The Term Oreo. If you’ve never heard of that term, it basically is used to describe a black person who’s “white” on the inside i.e. the way they talk, dress, the music they listen to, etc. I’ve always talked “proper” aka using minimal slang, fully annunciating my words, and so forth. For that, all my life I’ve been told I talk white or asked why do I speak so proper. It’s really insane to me and combining that with some of the music I liked and shows I loved to watch, had people calling me an oreo. These words weren’t just used in school, but I heard it more at home by family members. Since when did speech have a race? Saying that also makes it seem like black people just sound uneducated and don’t know how to speak, which is obviously 1000% untrue. I think what gets me the most is that, since I became an adult, I’ve heard from family members that I’m “more black now”. What does that even mean? Just because I use more slang doesn’t mean anything besides that…I use more slang. I still love the shows I used to watch (Hannah Montana being one) and I still love some of the songs I used to listen to. I’m black inside and no matter how I dress, what I listen to, or what I watch.
Feeling afraid and uncomfortable.
If you didn’t grow up being the only black kid around or part of a group of a few, then most likely you might feel a little awkward when you’re in that predicament. I have felt that feeling a few times if I must be honest. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s like you just know you’re being looked at or judged because of the color of your skin. I have had friends/acquaintances of many different races and ethnicities, but there’s just that feeling. Not that I have a problem with anyone, but they have a problem with me. I’ve also dealt with real fear twice in my life in the past two or three years. The first time was when there was another killing of a black man by a cop. I don’t remember what happened, but I know it made me scared to leave my ID in my purse. I started to stick it in the visor because I didn’t want to get pulled over, reach for my ID, and end up the next victim. Just thinking about it all over again scares me. That’s the reality of being black in America. My other fear was last year. I only told my mom and maybe one friend this, but I was driving home from work and there’s a long strip with streetlights before you turn a corner where there’s none at all. I didn’t know my headlights were off until I turned that corner and then I turned them on. My heart started beating so fast because I’ve never been stopped before. Luckily, it was this nice older black cop who just wanted to make sure I’m ok and was asking about my lights. He didn’t even ask for ID. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and not everyone gets sent on their way as you see time after time on the news. I could’ve been a case. My fear could’ve been a reality.
This may have been my personal experience, but I know a lot of other black people relate to me as well. To my nonblack people who are reading this, I hope that this was an eye opener for you that this is real. These experiences are real. It’s not just the huge moments where a black man is having their life taken by a cop. It’s being given a weird look when you enter a store, it’s the small jokes or being compared to your white counterparts, it’s taking extra precautions just to make sure you’re not the next person on the news. As long as I can’t stop being black(which I don’t want to), you can and shouldn’t stop wanting and fighting for justice and equality.
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