I asked a few of my friends what being black in America meant to them. Their words broke my heart and inspired me at the same time.
There are not many scenes from elementary school that I remember vividly, with the exceptions of class parties, music class, getting picked last for dodgeball in P.E., and having to raise my hand to be identified by race. The teacher would come in with that dreaded paper, and I would instantly sink down in my seat. When she called the categorization that we identified with, we raised our hands; the options were white, black, and other.The ambiguity of “other” was more appealing to me than the negative connotation of “black,” so that is the option I chose. The girl next to me curled her lip up at me and snarled. “You’re black.” The count started over. “Black” is associated with everything dark, negative, and unwanted. Black is the color of the pits of hell, coffee that spits out, cats that bring misfortune, rotting food that has been abandoned, and the storm clouds that bring destruction. Black is the color of depression.
In the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson published Notes on the State of Virginia. Among his discussions of checks and balances and the separation of church and state, he addressed the conflict between his position as a slaveholder and his famous words, “all men are created equal.” His argument, simply put, was that black people are not actually human. The differences between whites and blacks that he outlined include that blacks “require less sleep…after hard labor through the day,” are “inferior in reason,” and are covered by an “immovable veil of black, which covers all the emotions of the other race.” Jefferson’s arguments started a wave of pseudoscience with the goal to completely dehumanize and demean blacks. For example, American physician Samuel A. Cartwright argued that black slaves who fled captivity suffered from a mental illness called Drapetomania, since the Bible calls for a slave to be submissive to his master, and by submitting to the will of God, he would have no desire to flee — if healthy. In fact, it could be argued that the entire concept of race is pseudoscience.
The race is a social construction
There are no biological or genetic determinants for what we call “race,” and as a result, the concept is constantly evolving along with political needs. The categorization system with three options from elementary school developed into nearly twenty options by the time I graduated high school. The race is a social construction, and the intent of the creators was to degrade certain groups until oppression seemed logical. Being black in America is not being guaranteed clean water. Being black in America is being killed while attending Bible study by a self-proclaimed white supremacist who, even after being convicted, is defended by some media sources. Being black in America is being compared to the very hate group responsible for lynchings of blacks for simply protesting a penal system designed to disproportionately affect and enslave people of color. Being black in America and being conscious of institutionalized racism is “to be in a rage almost all the time,” as argued by author James Baldwin. I asked a few of my friends what being black in America meant to them. Their words broke my heart and inspired me at the same time.
“Being Black in America, more often than not, means being judged before you ever open your mouth. It means knowing that many of the people surrounding you already have the preconceived idea that you are uneducated, loud and ghetto…It means having to hear others respond to the social injustices that we are facing with words like ‘All Lives Matter,’ as if others saying that ‘police need to stop killing unarmed Black men’ is offensive and questionable enough for debate.” – Jada H. “I have to work three, four times harder just to prove that I’m just as intelligent or capable as someone with lighter skin than me. We’re constantly silenced with everyone’s desire for us to be content with the inhumane treatment that we receive…I have to tell my little black nephew, that I love to death, that he better not take part in the simple things that could easily get him senselessly murdered. It means that I have to constantly remind my little black niece that her skin is beautiful and she is capable of all things she puts her mind to.
It simply means that we, black people, have to continue the fight for equality and justice.” – Makiya W.
“Being black in America is like looking through a kaleidoscope. You are made to decipher, be and not be all these different personalities, ideals, histories, and stereotypes. You’re proud and ashamed to enjoy ‘black’ things. You’re proud and ashamed to enjoy ‘white’ things. You play a rigged game with your white counterparts in housing, education, and employment. Being black in America means you most likely have a loving family, but a broken one – broken by a history of oppression and separation.
One of the hardest and most heartbreaking things a black parent or guardian will ever have to do is explain to their child that there are this mindset and system in place to hurt them, kill them, oppress them, and there’s not much they can do about it. It looks like there’s not much hope for someone who is black in America, but that’s simply not true.”– Adrienne T.
“It hurts knowing there are people out there that don’t like me just because of the color of my skin. When I was younger, I was ashamed of my color, but now, as an educated African American female, I’ve molded myself to be proud of who I am. I strive to go above and beyond to prove that I am worthy of the same respect and equal rights of those around me. I am black in America, and I am proud.” – Taneshia B.
I once had an administrator tell me to “get over” the racist comments that were being made in one of my classes. He told me that he was doing me a favor by refusing to switch me to a class where I would be more comfortable. He said that I would just have to become accustomed to the reality of being black in America. Black Americans inspire me. They give me hope that America will not always be this way towards people of color, and we will be the ones to change it. Black is the color of resilience. Black is the color of hope.