Being Black in America has always been a layered experience for me. Most of us go through multiple life stages of defining or questioning what Blackness looks like to us. My experience of Black in America was also coupled with being raised by a Caribbean family and Caribbean values. Learning and loving my Blackness is still a work in progress, but I’m so thankful for how far I have come.
“The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I become white.”James Baldwin
- Once upon a time I hated the way my hair grew out of my head.
- I remember a time I didn’t speak up in fear of being “the angry Black woman” stereotype.
- Once upon a time I was an elitist Black suburban girl who “othered” herself from “those” Black people.
- During that time I was unknowingly suppressing my Blackness (and others) to attempt to fit into whiteness.
To fit into what America deems acceptable. It makes me so uncomfortable to think of how I use to view the different layers of my own Blackness. But it brings me joy knowing my girls are being taught to celebrate ALL of theirs from the very beginning.
Learning & Loving the Process:
My reality and the reality of most Black Americans is “success” in America has always aligned with whiteness. So much so, I’ve spent the last 5+ years unlearning different forms of systemic racism ingrained in me by society. Talk about uncomfortable conversations with myself and my loved ones.
Growing up, a lot of us were taught to associate certain ways of existing, and/or living as the measurement for “making it” in America. From our physical appearance to our physical address. Every aspect of success has been rooted in how close we get to whiteness. This is particularly damaging to Black people who have essentially been taught to not “rock the boat”. Whether it be their place of business or anywhere outside of the home. Talking to a large number of Black people over the years, the best way to sum the survival tactics up, is the suppression of our Blackness.
Learning & Loving My Hair:
I kept my hair bone straight growing up. Relaxing my hair was the norm for me at the time. Not because I preferred my hair straight, but because I didn’t like and appreciate my own natural hair. I would actually talk negatively about my hair in its natural state when it was time for another relaxer. I’ve heard the word “unprofessional” attached to Black hair in corporate America for as long as I can remember.
The crazy part about my hair story is the fact my family constantly told me how beautiful my hair was without a relaxer. My Grandmother specifically always hated that I relaxed my hair. She would always say “your hair is perfectly fine the way it is. You don’t need a relaxer.” But to a little Black girl growing up in a country that said my natural hair wasn’t a “clean look” or “unprofessional” why would I? Whether women were Black, Hispanic, white, etc. on magazine covers, commercials, movies, etc. their hair was straight, and 9 times out of 10 their skin was light.
Today- you can’t tell me anything negative about the crown of coils on my head. It’s a pride I will pass on to my girls, but more importantly, they will see it through the beautiful shades of Black women rocking their various textures of natural hair loudly and proudly.
Learning & Loving Myself:
Growing up in majority white populated suburbs was always referred to as “making it”. It’s seen as the ultimate goal of having money and/or success in this country. It’s also not exclusive to Black Americans either. Most minorities have used the whiteness of their neighborhoods and schools as measuring sticks for success in their families. It created a false sense of security. It wasn’t until I grew older I realized how many times I was treated as one of the “good ones” by my non-Black “friends”. I was treated as the exception to the rule. And I actually took pride in it.
I remember thinking my address “othered” me from the stereotype of Black people I was sold to believe. Thinking speaking proper English somehow made me smarter than someone who didn’t. I remember taking pride in being the only Black person present in a room. Like it was a badge of honor of some sort. Although being the first or only Black person in a room is not necessarily bad, my reason for doing so in my young mind was for the wrong ones.
Learning & Loving Growth:
It still makes me uncomfortable to share the previous paragraph because I hate thinking about how anti-Black I was. But having these conversations out loud are necessary for personal growth, but also for transparency. I need my audience to know that it’s okay to change your mind and do better when you know better. We should be learning and evolving as we grow older because it means we’re moving in the right direction.
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”Muhammad Ali
I have come a long way from the 17 year old girl in the picture above. Well, I still do an occasional kiss face picture, but I’m not changing that anytime soon LOL. I’m thankful for my growth, for my journey, and to keep learning and loving more about myself and my Blackness along the way.