Depending on who you are, when you ask me who I am, I respond with a combination of those things. Those words seemingly capture the essence of what I want you to know in that moment. Words that seem to define and set lines of understanding to others about who I am.
But let’s be honest.
When anyone sees me, they see my blackness.
The coil of my hair, sometimes unkempt on my head. The slight bling of the ring in my nose that holds my glasses. I used to think I looked “smart” in the spectacles that allow me to see more clearly.
But it’s not just my vision that needs to be adjusted.
Because today, I am once again faced with the truth of the matter that regardless of what I may be, others see me as Black.
So, let me reintroduce myself.
I am the daughter of a teenage mother who didn’t finish high school. Who abandoned her dreams to care for her family. The offspring of a woman who understands the challenges of being a Black woman with a genetic illness and chooses to sacrifice working to be as healthy as she could to fight. Because the lack of adequate healthcare doesn’t allow her the opportunity to do both.
I am the little girl who was one of 4 black kids in a “gifted” classroom who vividly remembers trying to explain why my hands were two shades darker than my white classmates…the same hands that greeted my friends on the block “on the black hand side.”
I am a repeat graduate, a candidate for my doctoral degree, yet I’ve seen others get positions and jobs with a fraction of my experience and knowledge, because they lacked the melanin to be excellent but possess the acceptance to be chosen.
I am a glimmer of hope for my students, proof positive that choices can lead to a changed life. But my level of change isn’t enough to combat the lack of resources, access, opportunities and equity that exist for them to believe me outside of the four walls of my classroom.
And why should they?
Because too often, much more than it should be, we see images of another Black man or woman being killed, another human being dying at the hands of another, seemingly for the color of their skin. You can’t rationalize the fear that exists, the anger that ensues when you can’t even create a narrative that would point to anyone deserving to die…
With a knee in their neck
A jog in their step
A toy in their hand
A hoodie on their head
From a knock at the door
Or a game with their fam’
From a celebration of a new year
Or before the start of a life with their love
From a “routine” traffic stop
To a walk in the park
We’re being told that we can live. Not a “normal” life that is. Why?
Because we’re black.
So even though I try, there’s been too many times where I have cried in front of 30 something sets of eyes, who look to me for answers.
Who experience my teaching through the lens of social justice and equity, yet also understand the pain of my tears when we compare the past to the present, analyze the point of view of Harper Lee against the lives of the Scottsboro Boys, or contrast the life of Khalil and Big Mav against the backdrop of Tupac’s words.
While I stand with them and offer hope with my presence, days like today make me question if it’s enough.
Because when they see me, I’m not the educator, the advocate, the degreed woman who has analyzed just as many classics as I have Black masterpieces of literary works.
When that white woman refuses to speak when our eyes meet, or when I’m followed in the street, when I’m teaching my daughter about not bowing down and when the blue lights streak, the knots in my chest, the rise in my heartbeat, the sweat in my hands and the anger in the aftermath are clear reminders that no matter who I really am, all that some other people will ever see is, I am Black.
So I’ll redefine. Based on my own terms. Say it loud. I’m BLACK and I’m proud.