This article is dedicated to the three teachers who told me that “my people” could not be successful, the boy who told one of my classmates that he would lynch us, the administration who constantly defended threatening, harmful, and racially-motivated comments and actions, and the incredible people with the Something New foundation who helped me find my voice.
I was a physics major for a week.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll always be intrigued by the complexities of quantum mechanics, but my goal in life has never been to be a theoretical physicist. My aspiration is to create a world where a young girl with skin of bronze can believe that she is golden enough to study dark matter alongside the masculine fair skins that dominate the field and society.
That dream requires work, liberation, and determination, but I am afraid.
I remember sitting in a history class of thirty students and being the only one with skin darker than the beige walls that I hid against. I had hoped that if I sat far enough in the back, the attention wouldn’t turn to me whenever there was a mention of slavery or segregation. I was wrong.
The teacher drew a graph on the board and explained that blacks were the only group in America that had never reached the standard set by the original white settlers, in educational, economic, and sociopolitical terms. In that moment, I just wanted to be a statistic. I wanted to fit the mold of what most people believe African Americans are — uneducated, uncooperative, and unworthy of the opportunity to realize the American dream.
My blackness symbolizes generations of resilience and resistance.
Over time, I have learned that my blackness symbolizes generations of resilience and resistance. However, oppression still weighs on me. I still feel the heaviness of the souls lost while fighting for freedom.
August 24th would have been the birthday of Korryn Gaines, a young black woman gunned down by police. Just slightly over a year ago, in July of 2015, another black woman, Sandra Bland, was found dead while in police custody. A frightening similarity between the two women is their passion for social justice; both of them frequently spoke out against systemic oppression. While I understand that correlation does not always mean causation, the comparison is coincidental enough to scare me into silence.
I am scared of becoming a Medgar, a Malcolm, a Martin, or any of the other countless martyrs who sacrificed physical existence for a dream that seems unattainable — equality. I am scared of breaking under the pressure of oppression. I am scared of being attacked and brutalized. I am scared that my skin is not thick enough to handle tears, and my eyes are not strong enough to hold back tears. Microaggressions become major aggression, and that violence can easily cause clinical depression.
Existing in a state of double consciousness is stressful; I never know when it is and ain’t appropriate to use colloquialisms. I am realizing that ignorance really is bliss. I’d rather live in the fairytale land that I was temporarily sheltered in as a child, a world without racism, without prejudice, without a need for activism.
Even as I write these words, I am overwhelmed with emotions that I have been taught to hide, but I recognize that there is beauty in vulnerability and inspiration in heartache.
Two years ago, my eyes were opened to how cruel this world can truly be to people who don’t fit the mold of normal. Then, I understood. That normal feeling that I desired was found in the position of a bystander.
I refuse to take the side of the oppressor and act oblivious to issues of injustice. I will speak out, not because claiming the title of “social activist” has become popular, but because it is my moral obligation. Social activism is more than a side hustle, or a thing that we should do after incidents of police brutality.
Activism is a way of life
When I started college, I wanted to run from my passion in fear that my passion would lead to pain. Now, I understand that the pain I was afraid of only comes from sitting by idly while watching my people die from a plague that can be cured by unity.
I was only a physics major for a week.
“Once you become conscious, you can never go back. With liberation, comes work. With liberation, takes work. With liberation, comes burden, and that burden sits heavy like asthma.”
— Fong Tran