Am I Black Enough?
Have you ever heard of Lebanon, Ohio? It’s a little suburban town 30 minutes outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. When I was 12 and obviously had no choice in the matter, my family relocated there (Now you all understand why I’m so OHIO AGAINST THE WORLD). What mattered most was that I had no choice in the experiences I was forced to gain over the next 6 years of my life, I was a child and that was my environment. Growing into myself, as a black woman in a sea of white… I didn’t know any different. So, when I started university that was my wakeup call that I was “a different kind of black girl” “or “that I talked white.” I was constantly defending my blackness, trying to make sure I didn't get my black card revoked! It was apparently not going well because I couldn’t quite fit in with all the black women I was meeting, nor did I feel comfortable with just my “white friends.” It was an exhausting space to be in, I felt like I had to be in defense mode all the time.
It turns out that exhaustion I was feeling, wasn’t in my head! Science has finally named and acknowledged that being black in America is traumatic. In the last decade, there was a new syndrome introduced: Racial Battle Fatigue. It was initially used to understand dynamics for students of color at PWI's. Racial Battle fatigue is similar to what soldiers’ experience when they return from war, like PTSD. When you’re constantly having to defend being black, explain who you are, or deflect/accept microaggressions it is physically exhausting and taxing on ones’ mental state. It can make it hard to feel accepted and supported in one's environments.
Let’s rewind to my HS experience…. Have you ever been to a petting zoo? Well, I was the zoo and spectators far and wide came to interact. At the time, I had no idea how backward the compliments I received were. When I wore my hair straight; they would touch it (without my permission) and ask, “is that your real hair” and when I started transitioning to my curls the conversation turned to “wow how do you make it curly.” I was continuously pounded with racial microaggressions as an adolescent. The sad part is, I wasn’t initially offended by the “pretty for a black girl” compliments. I wasn’t fazed when it was my turn to speak on behalf of all black people during history lessons. I wasn’t upset to hear “you’re not that kind of black girl…” because I didn’t know any different. Instead, I internalized those microaggressions and tried to assimilate rather than embracing my blackness.
It took me changing my environment to grow and understand that the people I grew up with are unfortunately very ignorant. Keep in mind this is not a diss to white people or anyone I grew up with. There are some people who are hopelessly ignorant and chose to remain that way but then there are those who want to do better. In fact, I encountered a few wonderful people throughout my HS experience. I had teachers who intentionally practiced inclusion and spoke up about diversity as well as friends who were willing to learn. The bottom line is we are all products of our environment. We can’t do any better until we learn that there is more to do!
Growing up in a predominantly white town helped shape who I've become today. But what really defined who I am, was accepting myself (embracing my natural curls, my squeaky valley girl voice, and learning to gently deflect and correct the microaggressions that still continue to brush past me). I also had to accept that not everyone is willing to do the same. I no longer allow the sound of my voice, the vocabulary that I choose, or other people around me define my blackness. Because only I can do that for myself.
We (our community, our men, our women, our children) are already attacked on a daily basis…. It is traumatic enough being Black in America. The least we could do, in our own community, is openly accept each other. If you’ve ever told someone “You talk or act white," now, I hope you rethink using that destructive phrase.
I linked a great article below if you want to read more about how Racial Battle Fatigue affects black men, especially.