September 29, 2020

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Why I Love Being Black, but Hate Being Black in America

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.”

I read that quote a couple of years ago and I broke down in tears. Reading that sentence encapsulated what it feels like to be Black in America for me. I once had somebody ask me, “Knowing what you know now about the struggles of Black people, would you choose to be Black if given the option?” Before they could even finish their sentence I said, “Yes!” There is no way I would choose to be anything other than Black. I love being Black, I just don’t like being Black in America. 

The last few weeks have brought to light the continued lynchings of Black bodies. This information is not new to Black people—we live with that knowledge and that trauma on a cellular level. Knowing that we are not safe and have never been safe is a conversation that most of us have with our parents at a very young age. We walk with the weight of racial inequality, and still, we rise. Our names have been erased, and still, we rise. Our cultural contributions have been forgotten, and still, we rise. 

 

There is no way I would choose to be anything other than Black. I love being Black, I just don’t like being Black in America. 

 

As Black people, we are told, “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much.” Take a minute to think about that. I have to work twice as hard as my white peers, just to get half as much as them. Learning that from an early age made me internalize that there was no room for mistakes, no time for weakness, and no excuse for laziness. My hustle is what led me to graduate with a major and two minors, to go back to school when I wanted to change careers, and to constantly need a certificate of some kind just to make sure my knowledge is validated. I really want to be good at #selfcaresundays. I really want to be OK with bingeing Netflix all day, and yet there is still a part of me that struggles with taking that time for myself. The idea of resting, relaxing, or taking a day off as a Black person in America means you run the risk of losing that promotion, the business win, that audition, or some other opportunity. Unlearning from this belief is something that I am still working on today. 

 

We walk with the weight of racial inequality, and still, we rise. Our names have been erased, and still, we rise. Our cultural contributions have been forgotten, and still, we rise. 

 

 

I remember my sister and I were talking about her pressures on the job. She works in pharmaceutical marketing and is often in charge of running large meetings with pharmaceutical executives. Often, she is the only Black person in the room, so when she steps into the boardroom she knows she has to be at 100 percent, and nothing else. There’s no room for her to have a typo, there’s no room for her to show weakness, and there is no room for her to be anything but perfect. Being perfect, being strong, and working twice as hard to get half as much has led to extreme levels of stress, resentment, and burnout. It would be a gift if we, as Black people, were able to work hard and see the result without running our well-being into the ground, and unfortunately, even today, that’s not our reality. 

 

I really want to be good at #selfcaresundays. I really want to be OK with bingeing Netflix all day, and yet there is still a part of me that struggles with taking that time for myself. The idea of resting, relaxing, or taking a day off as a Black person in America means you run the risk of losing that promotion, the business win, that audition, or some other opportunity. Unlearning from this belief is something that I am still working on today. 

 

Most non-Black people think that the struggle of being Black in America only revolves around racial slurs and police brutality, and while those experiences are absolutely true, here are some other ways Black Americans experience racism:

  • Tone policing: When we express our anger at an unjust situation we are called out for our angry language instead of hearing what we have to say. Here’s an example: “I know racism exists, but how are you supposed to get people to hear you when you sound so angry and combative.”
  • Microaggressions: This is a term used to describe a statement or behavior that conveys an unjust belief. For example: At a place I work, I was trying to set up a committee of Black and Brown people to discuss inclusivity within the company. When I brought it up, my manager said, “Well they all have to be literate.”
  • Cultural Appropriation: No this isn’t just about Kim Kardashian wearing cornrows. The stealing of Black peoples’ ideas and contributions has been going on for centuries. When cultural appropriation happens, we as Black people lose out. We no longer get to benefit from something that was already ours. We lose the credit and any financial gain from a style, product, or a cultural contribution.  For example, Neiman Marcus selling seasoned collard greens for $66.00 (plus shipping) during the holidays. 

All of this being said and true, being Black isn’t all struggle, slavery, and trauma like we are taught during Black History Month. Being Black is a celebration of resilience. Being Black is beautiful. Being Black is joy. Sitting around the table with my family, I am reminded of what Black excellence looks like. Sure, we are just a family of six, and yet our existence is a representation of Black excellence everywhere. During family gatherings, I watch my sisters crack jokes at each other and we all laugh until we are in tears. Here’s the thing: Black people don’t just laugh, we laugh with our whole bodies. When we really get into it, watch out! We scream, stomp, clap, and dance our way through our laughter. When you see a Black person laugh, you can’t help but laugh too. Watch this clip and try not to laugh!

 

It would be a gift if we, as Black people, were able to work hard and see the result without running our well-being into the ground, and unfortunately, even today, that’s not our reality. 

 

 

Because my ancestral lineage has been lost or erased, I have always used food as a way to connect to my past. I remember growing up and spending lots of time with my mother in the kitchen.

Sundays were my favorite because it was the day when my mom would make dinner from scratch. Meals like smothered pork chops served with fresh snapped green beans, peeled potatoes, and caramelized onions brought our family together. We would start by seasoning the meat and the flour we would use for the breading. My mother always knew the perfect way to season, and yet, as a kid, she still let me figure it out with her. Once the pork chops were ready to go we would start snapping the beans. Fresh green beans are my absolute favorite and nobody cooks them better than my mom. Around 4pm or so we would start cooking—we’d fry the pork chops, saute onions and garlic, and simmer the potatoes and green beans, making sure to keep an eye on each pot. Every so often, she’d call me in to do a taste test (which was always my favorite part) and adjust the seasonings. Finally, once everything was finished, we would plate it and sit down to enjoy our meal. 

 

Being Black isn’t all struggle, slavery, and trauma like we are taught during Black History Month. Being Black is a celebration of resilience. Being Black is beautiful. Being Black is joy.

 

Those hours spent in the kitchen with my mom felt like I was threading a connection to my ancestors. Unfortunately, her mother passed away before I was born, and yet my grandmother’s recipe was alive within my mom. The spices my grandmother used were the spices my mother used as well. While it wasn’t my grandmother’s hands making the food, I can still feel the presence of my ancestors whenever I head to the kitchen. Whenever I smell collard greens stewing on the stove, hot water cornbread frying in my grandmother’s cast-iron skillet, or macaroni and cheese baking in the oven, I know that I am connected to my grandmother, her grandmother, and everyone who came before me.

 

While it wasn’t my grandmother’s hands making the food, I can still feel the presence of my ancestors whenever I head to the kitchen.

 

 

A lot of conversations around anti-racist work start with people saying that they don’t see color. That’s not an option for me, and I love that. I love that I get to celebrate the various beautiful shades of my community. Black people and Black skin are beautiful, and when you don’t see color that means you are missing out on the gorgeous people around you. See their color and celebrate them. See their color and amplify their voice. See their color and love them.

 

Black people and Black skin are beautiful, and when you don’t see color that means you are missing out on the gorgeous people around you. See their color and celebrate them. See their color and amplify their voice. See their color and love them.

 

 

Yesterday, I saw this on Instagram, “Every Black person you meet is a miracle.” and I stood up and clapped when I read it. It has always been hard to be a Black person in America, and I am hoping this current wave of Black Lives Matter will create lasting change. The fact that I exist is a miracle. The fact that you exist is a miracle. The fact that we continue to get up, fight for justice, laugh, cook, and love is a miracle. So, Black people, the next time you stand in the mirror repeat: I am worthy. I am a miracle. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.