Growing up, I struggled with my black identity. At school, I was made fun of because I was not what society would consider being stereotypically black. Kids at school called me Oreo and said I spoke like a white girl. They said I was weird because I jammed out to country music instead of hip hop and rap.
Through different experiences and the media, I came to realize that black people were (are) considered to be uneducated, unintelligent, and ghetto. I had no desire to be labeled as such which meant I would not and could not embrace my blackness. I did whatever I could to become more socially accepted. Spending over $400 a month, I used chemicals and weaves to transform my kinky hair into silky, bone straight hair. I lived in white, upscale neighborhoods of which the rent I almost always could not afford. A lot of times, I modified my words and tones linguistically. More often than not, I would use my ‘white girl voice’. I stayed away from stereotypically black people and befriended white and brown friends. All my black friends were as black as I was.
I believed that all of these things would protect me from having to deal with any racism or social injustices. I thought that if I was able to change myself and make the world comfortable with my subtle blackness, then I could avoid being judged and labeled because of the color of my skin. It seems impossible to avoid racism when society views Black people negatively.
So in spite of my ‘white girl voice’, and my Yaki straight weave, I could not avoid racism. I was the token black girl in an all-white classroom. I was expected to speak for a race of people despite our experiences. Store owners saw my skin color and followed me around to ensure that I would not steal anything. People automatically assumed I was uneducated and unintelligent until I gave them a rundown of my educational credentials. I learned, no matter how many degrees I earned, and how many honors I received, my melanin spoke for me first.
At four years old my son’s melanin spoke for him. Another 4-year-old boy told my son that he could not play with him. He said, ‘but mommy, he said my skin was too dark for me to play on the slide.’ This conversation was right around the time that the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement had begun. I couldn’t believe that this had reached my preschooler. I thought for sure that we wouldn’t have to have this conversation for at least 10 years.
As the #blacklivesmatter movement took social media by storm, I began to take notice of what the movement stood for and the changes that they were trying to implement. When Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer, during a not so routine traffic stop, I cried and felt the pain deep in my soul.
I was finally able to empathize with this situation. I saw my husband, brother, and sons when I saw #Philando moaning, soaked with blood, dying. The facts of the case were that the police officer that shot #Philando had already made his own assumptions of this man’s possible guilt as evidenced by the radio call he made prior to stopping the car. The officer had advised another officer that Philando had a ‘wideset nose’ and that he ‘resembled a suspect’. The officer shot into a vehicle seven times knowing that there was a small child in the back.
My heart cried out in disbelief at this unnecessary loss. I could only imagine my sons’ agony if they were to lose their father so tragically. My heart skipped a beat as I feared the worst for my black Haitian husband. My husband experienced a brush of racism and social injustice during a traffic stop and could have easily become a hashtag had the situation escalated. I also feared the worst for my baby brother, who was 27 years old at the time, and resembled Philando as he had started growing locs and worked as a teacher. He has a wide set nose.
I was sick with worry and fear. My new reality was that my husband and brother would not come home but instead be honored with a hashtag. I found myself constantly reminding them: ‘keep your hands on the wheel’, ‘don’t talk back’, ‘be compliant’, ‘come back home’, ‘please don’t be another hashtag.’
Every day I live my life in fear that my brother, husband, and sons will be labeled, treated unfairly, and then killed. For me, my protest and my change were for my black sons and their future. The #BLM Movement helped change my perspective of my Blackness.
This racial justice movement provided an opportunity for me to have conversations that I avoided for so long out of fear. Fear that speaking out on my experiences and social injustices will make my friends and associates uncomfortable. It has brought awareness to what was happening in Black communities everywhere. It shined a light on the fact that there is state-sanctioned violence against Black people. In my opinion, this movement has allowed for the coming together of Black power to shout, ‘I am here and I matter.’
The #BLM movement has made me realize the daunting yet important task of raising Black sons in our society today. I struggle daily with normal life choices. Is it beneficial for my boys to attend an all-black church? Is it OK for them to be the only black children at the kids’ church? Do we find a more diverse sports program for him? Do they know and understand enough of their Black history and Haitian culture? Am I doing enough to expose my children to their black culture? Will he identify with any of his teachers? Will it be difficult because they don’t have the same color skins?
How do you teach your children to be proud of who they are when everyday people are being killed just because their skin is the same color as theirs? How do you teach your children to be unapologetically black when social norms tell them that anything black is inherently less than?
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out. My overall goal is to ensure that my sons understand what it means to be proud of their blackness. My sons will learn to love themselves and be proud of who they are and who they are destined to be. As they grow older, I will help them to understand and be aware of the realities and struggles of the Black community and how it can affect their choices and livelihood.
As for me, #BLM encouraged me to become unapologetically black. Since sharing my opinions of my Black struggles, I lost a community of people. My support of the #BLM did not mean that I was against police officers or even those without melanin skin. I had to leave my church that I had considered family. I had to deal with the backlash from my white and brown friends when they saw me in all of my Blackness.
However, I gained a community and a tribe of women who saw me and accepted me and my kinky hair. I acquired friends who maybe could not relate to my struggle but were willing to listen and seek understanding and continue to love me. Gaining a newfound love for myself, I learned to embrace my natural features, my wide nose, and kinky hair. I am learning to embrace blackness and all that it stands for whether good or bad. I shamelessly support my Black community. I am proud of who I am and who I will become. In being unapologetically black, I am able to raise my sons to be the same.