So the topic of the moment is “the Black experience” and what that means. I’m not even going to get started on how that conversation is only happening because a white woman tried to co-opt Blackness. I’m not going to mention that the only reason that some White people are even ASKING this question is because they are fascinated and appalled that someone WANTED to be Black. I’m not going to talk about how this question being asked and answered is steeped in white supremacy and systematic racism. Nope. I’m not going to talk about any of that. Nope. Not today.
I do want to talk about the Black experience. I want to describe it. I want to explain why it can’t be stolen. I want to explain why it isn’t a costume a person can put on and become real.
Black childhood is an integral part of Black experience. We all start off innocent. Race is something children see but it doesn’t impact them. It’s just what we are. I watch my almost 4 year old play with her friends of different races and ethnicities and the differences don’t matter to them. They might remark on differences in skin tone or hair color but there is no malice in it. Kids are kids. Race is irrelevant unless they have been taught that it is not. As we grow up and interact with the world we bump up against the world at large and it’s perceptions of race. I remember the first time I heard the n word. I was in 3rd grade. I came home and asked my Mom what it meant. I knew it was an insult from the way the person said it but I didn’t know why.
Depending on how the world highlights your Blackness to you it molds us all differently. Some of us strive for acceptance, some fight and indict the entire system, some try to assimilate, some give up. Having your innocence broken by the racist systems of this country is a part of MOST if not all Black coming of age stories. I remember the first time a teacher hurled my Blackness at me in the classroom. I remember the feeling. I remember realizing that this person didn’t like me simply because of the color of my skin. I remember the hurt. I remember it vividly. I can tell you what color his tie was. That’s how vividly I remember it.
To be Black in America is to be simultaneously hated and envied by others. The Black experience is beautiful in our enclaves where we eat great food, laugh, listen to music, support each other and speak life to each other. The Black experience is watching that truth be lost and lied about in main stream media which reduces us to thugs and hoes and claims us all illiterate and illegitimate. To be Black in America is to be held down and held back and made an exception to some racist rule when we succeed in spite of the boots on our neck.
To be Black in America is to start behind the rest of the folks at the starting line. Money can move you closer to the start line. If you come from money and you are Black you get a little closer but you are still Black. You are still starting behind. Does this mean we can’t win? Nope. We prove it all the time. We can and do win in spite of the obstacles in our paths but even on the winner’s podium people will deny that you had to run harder and faster while dodging obstacles your opponents didn’t have. To be Black in America is to be forced to cling to your truth in the knowledge that others may NEVER embrace it.
The Black experience is schizophrenic in many ways. I’m proud and happy and grateful to be a member of this group. But I’m also always in a rage against the many micro and major aggressions we face daily. Have you ever had a drip in your faucet? Those little drops of water can stain your sink basin. Just little drops of water hitting the same spot over and over and over. That’s what microaggressions are like. Things like people touching your hair, questioning your background, being shocked that you attended college, making assumptions about your marital status, asking questions about the hood etc etc etc. These things have a way of constantly othering you.. Constantly letting you know you are different. And most of these are delivered with a smile. If you dare to be angry well then you are overreacting and now you have become the angry Black woman. It’s exhausting ya’ll.
The Black experience is to know that we have no rights that cops or really anyone is bound to accept. The Black experience is feeling unsafe when a police cruiser passes you. The Black experience as a parent is knowing that you can not protect your child from overzealous police officers or neighborhood watch men with guns. It is a powerlessness that renders you impotent. So you instruct your child on ways to survive these encounters, knowing that even compliance will not guarantee their survival.
The Black experience is a choice between white washing our names or knowingly facing housing and employment discrimination.
The Black experience is more than hair or music. The Black experience is more than adopting Black children. The Black experience is NOT a feeling it’s an actual thing. And although there is variety in it (like any other culture) it is a very real thing. You can not co-opt it. You can not wear it like a costume. You can not lie your way in to it. It’s all bad and all good at the same time. And THAT is the truth.
And even writing all of THAT you won’t understand it if you don’t LIVE it