I don’t think I’ve ever felt so Black.
Black Lives Matter, conversations on race and a Trump victory marked my 2016.
I’ve always known my Blackness in the taking-it-for-granted kind of way. It’s my essence, my uniqueness, my swagger. I know it paints my experience and my behavior, but I never felt like it entered a room before me, or filled it more than I have. I’ve always known that I belong.
I was proudly born and raised in the Caribbean. I grew up with people who look just like me leading parliament, piloting planes, owning the planes, buildings and running the airline industry. The first time I was asked to define my race I was age 14, while registering for high school in the U.S. I was baffled as to why anyone would need to know my race in order to teach me.
It was a sobering reality to learn that there are still people in America who remember drinking from different fountains, swimming only when allowed on the beaches and using the back door to enter buildings. Americans who thought they would never live to see a Black president.
Enter 2016 and I had two pivotal experiences, among the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. Firstly, I sat through a two-day “Undoing Racism” conversation which aims to blow the lid off how we serve, and are served by, communities we seek to help. The conversation unraveled the mind-blowing history of how an entire race of people were marginalized one political step at a time.
It left me overwhelmed. I found myself wrestling with the juxtaposition of my heritage in America’s definition of Blackness.
Then, shortly after this…Trump won the presidency.
I am a woman who watches slavery or segregation movies very reluctantly, while peeking through the cracks in my fingers. This new reality was all just too raw. It was as if someone had dragged me back into the dark recesses of a history I never wanted to see again. Frankly, back to times I felt no longer existed.
Now my first-generation American children live in this version of equality. The thought of them not knowing themselves, as I did, broke my heart.
But, this is the dangerous part. We must allow ourselves about two-hot-seconds to mourn the passing of our disillusionment. Then, we get back to reality…to resilience…to prosperity. And, it was the very thing I had wrestled to reconcile with the American definition of Blackness that brought me the most clarity: My heritage. It is my greatest gift to my children.
I was wrong. My job now is not to make sense of it all. I cannot fix bigotry or hatred. Like Toni Morrison said, “Trying to persuade racists of the value of our humanity is a useless exercise.”
I don’t have to figure out where my son and daughter, having Caribbean parents, fit into the Black American dialogue. Because each of us, in our own colorful lives, add verses to the songs of freedom. But it’s the same song.
Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our mind. Have no fear for atomic energy, cause none of them can stop the time.
—Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”
My job now is to live life fully and to ensure my kids are powerfully educated to do the same. There is no better emancipation of mental slavery.
Everyone deserves to earn,
And, every child deserves to learn.
Every man deserves a turn,
Like a flame deserves to burn.
—Nas & Damian Marley, “Tribes at War”
I do belong in any room I choose and so do my children. My life will paint theirs. We will be examples of lives well-lived; stretching widely and standing tall against the depth and breadth of the world’s definition of who we are. We will celebrate our humanity. “We forward in this generation…triumphantly.”
So, “Won’t you help me sing? These songs of freedom. ’Cause all I ever had, redemption songs…these songs of freedom.”