This week, in the first of a two-part series, we are honoring Black History Month by sharing the reflections of five of Pantsuit Nation members who have written about their experience of being black in America.
LeRhonda Greats, Sheffield, MA
"Being black in America is complicated and can weigh you down. Even at my age, I am always second guessing myself and that questioning is linked to my feeling of not being free. Not free to express my own truth. Once I was asked if I were a punctuation mark what would I be? Internally, my answer has always been that I would be an exclamation mark but honestly when I think of this question in terms of being black in America, I live as a comma, which feels to me like I am not enough on my own. I cannot just be me, I have to be me but as a part of something else. I have built a personal narrative for survival that proclaims that I am proud, strong and complex and it is through my studies of Black History that I have gained strength. I am a creator, most specifically a mother, and yet my creations are targeted for destruction on a regular basis, so I live with a constant pit in my stomach, waiting for the destruction to come. When I think of “liberty and justice for all”, I often wonder when I will be included in the “all.” Free to exclaim my truth. Freedom is the ultimate goal, to express my feelings without fear. But I am not there yet."
Tay Anderson, Denver, CO
"Some may see me as a threat because of the color of my skin. I receive many dirty looks from people on public transportation because of the color of my skin. It makes me think I do not belong.
"They are wrong. Being black in America means that I have a voice and I matter. Our ancestors paved the way for people like me to stand up. Being black in America means I can vote, and although we didn't break the glass ceiling this time, we have 65 million cracks in it.
"I am a senior in high school. I have been student body president since 2014, my sophomore year. This accomplishment has given me the privilege of being the longest serving student body president in the state of Colorado, and one of the longest serving in the United States. I served on the Student Board of Education for Denver Public Schools from 2014-2016. I am the Chief Operations Officer of a national youth lobbying and advocacy organization. I am the Chairman of the High School Democrats of the entire state of Colorado.
"Being a black male made this possible because I have the honor to represent my school in a very diverse district. I follow in the steps of our first and second black mayors of Denver who both were head boys at one point in time. I, too, can be President, and I will be! I am only 18 but I am going to the White House, because being black in America has shown me that I will be anything and everything I can. I am not afraid to stand up when they say sit down. I am Tay Anderson. I will be the President of the United States. And I am a black teen in America.
"When they go LOW we go HIGH!"
Dominique Troy, Staten Island, NY
"Being black in America means that I wake up every morning and face someone else’s expectations of who I am. I rise with limited knowledge about the centuries of history that explain why those expectations exist in the first place. With only bits and pieces taught infrequently in the 16 years of schooling I’ve received. And even those bits are mostly about how people of my race have suffered from systemic violence because white people are historically uncomfortable with people who do not look like them. And that will never be enough to explain why people think I am not enough. I KNOW I am enough.
"But in that knowing, I still I struggle to figure out what is mine, what isn’t mine, and whether or not “mine” exists at all. Am I neutralizing myself to be “whiter?” Or, am I simply being myself?
"Identity. Being black here has taught me that navigating my identity will be something I do every morning when I rise. It often means I seek consolation from my mother, from my sister, from my sisters and brothers whose blood runs as black as their skin, whose hearts pound in desperation and fear for what is to come."
Ryan Isom, West Hempstead, NY
"Being black in America means living a fractured but beautiful existence. Our culture sees everything through white cisgender male lenses-- this not only affects how black people are seen by white people, but other black people. Colorism, homophobia, and gender roles plague the black community as consequences of slavery and white supremacy. I’m a gay black man who is considered "mixed" (by black people based on aesthetics), effeminate (for not being hyper-masculine), big and scary by some white people (I'm 6'3), but at the same time not-- but my pride in myself has grown immensely as I have aged. The love for my skin, growing out my hair, and figuring out that my natural self is not only tolerable or acceptable but needed and beautiful, has been revolutionary for me. It is a struggle when everyone is telling you who you are is wrong, but as I become more centered in myself, I have also become more spiritually fulfilled as black man in a white world. I’m learning to love being black, even though sometimes I don't enjoy being black in America."
Tanya Robinson, Pasadena, CA
"Being black in America is a daily adventure. Constant vigilance is needed, an awareness of which neighborhood you are in and what you are wearing. It often means waiting longer to be seated at restaurants, slower service, then paying for the meal and having the change or credit card charge slip handed to your white companion. It means an extra adrenaline rush when pulled over by law enforcement without just cause, even if you have the backstop of a righteously indignant white person in the car with you. It means you are considered by some to be either a walking risk, or a potential burden on society. But do I ever wish I wasn’t black? Not one day of my life, because being black in America is also a study in resilience, maintaining a sense of humor and self confidence, and the everyday bravery of walking with head high and shoulders squared into every room in the world."
We look forward to sharing another collection of voices with you next week.
MLK Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles…/Letter_Birmingham.html)
"Women, Race, & Class" by Angela Y. Davis (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780394713519)
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780812993547)
“The Urgency of Intersectionality” TED Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw (https://www.ted.com/…/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_inte…)