At this point in my life, I feel like I no longer have to be who and what society and the people around me think I should be. It’s a relief not feel like I have to be the right type of black for people to pay attention to me or appreciate my work. I’m tired of having to prove myself to people by portraying myself as something I’m not.
Being black and not using slang in every sentence; knowing who my father is, not being loud and confrontational at any given moment, tends to deliver a shock to some people’s systems. People are extremely puzzled about how I managed to graduate high school and go to college. Or the fact that I don’t have any children or that I’ve never been arrested or any other stereotypical ideology that you can place on a black person. This then earns me a great job but in reality, it’s really “Good job on not being another statistic.”I despise that.
In an attempt to prove I was not another stereotype, I started losing who I was and became apologetic for being me. I couldn’t engage in conversation about race, because while broaching the subject I would have to pick and choose my words carefully because from what I had learned from the world you don’t want to make people uncomfortable talking about these very real and true subjects. Having to tone myself down to not listening to the type of music I like, how I wore my hair or even what I ate. Going to a PWI (predominantly white institute) while losing the essence of who I am was exhausting. Because once again I had to conform to what at the time I thought was acceptable.
Fortunately, for me, the moment I decide for myself that I could no longer conform to fit in came when I lost a friendship. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I had become what they considered an acceptable black person. The friendship ended over me being painted as an aggressive angry person because I wouldn’t admit to something that I didn’t do. I was made to feel like I was wrong and that I needed to apologize to hold on to them. It was the time I spent alone that I was able to begin to know myself again. It was in those times that I realized I’m a strong, opinionated person. I shouldn’t have to alter my identity to fit in, to be accepted or even to be successful.
My message today would be if someone stereotypes you for being who you are, who cares? Don’t transform the person you are to fit the mold of what society thinks is an acceptable black person. Don’t alter your hair for anyone but you, don’t become meek and docile because you fear being labeled angry and aggressive. Stand up for what you believe in, have those uncomfortable conversations. Take pride in your accomplishments and who you are.
Don’t look for validation and worth from a few ignorant people.
Please relieve yourself of that burden.
Be black and be you.