My Blackness – A Poem

I show up with my mother and everyone is shook, I show up with my father and they don’t give a second look. But she’s white and I’m not, we mustn’t be related. Damn, that’s the type of thing that I have always hated. The looks and the glares, you think I can’t feel your despair? Sometimes hate is silent, but you always know when it is there.

I want to be a doctor and you laugh in my face, then you hand me some track spikes and tell me to go race. I speak on the problems that make my heart crack, but then you have the nerve to tell me, “you aren’t even black.” You scoff when I “bring up slavery and history again,” when you don’t even realize that there was no end.

No end to the brutality from those that protect us. No end to the fear and the severe lack of trust. No end to the comments, “is this your real hair? can i touch it?” Oh, and don’t forget, “how do you even brush ‘it’?” Frizzy. And big. Unruly. And nappy. But when you get a perm, it’s “perfect,” are you happy?

No end to the nerves when you meet someone’s parents. You dress to impress in hopes of earning their clearance. The thoughts racing through your mind, “do they know that I’m black? are they okay with that?” In fear that they might think your presence poses as an attack.

I’m not black enough, but I’m black when you need me. I’m black when I wear a hood and all of a sudden I am creepy. I’m black when you need a black friend to seem not racist. I’m black when the police ask me why I am around certain places. I’m black when you want to seem cultured and pure. But I’m not black enough when you think you can use the n-word. You say, “I forget you’re black,” as if that makes it okay? I don’t care how close we are, that is something that should never say, no matter the time or the day.

Slang from my mouth makes me hood and ghetto, but slang from yours makes you chill, on the down low. You think that I only listen to R&B and rap and when I say I am scared to get pulled over you say, “don’t overreact.” But tell me, do you feel your stomach churn at the news? When you hear the too familiar words,”black thug dies,” because I do. Or worry about your father or brother when they drive. And pray that they don’t get pulled over and make it home alive, rather than end up another lost black life. Do people around you roll your eyes, when you say that #BlackLivesMatter because you don’t want anyone else to die?

Do you find yourself stressed when you explain to your friends, if “All Lives Mattered,” then so many blacks wouldn’t be shot dead. They tell you, “it’s all in your head, there’s no issue,” can you say that to the mother crying over her son’s beaten dead body tissue? They don’t understand that we know that every cop isn’t bad, but some are corrupt and the fact that they can’t see that is sad.

You don’t sound black. Or act black. Or speak it. Or dress it. Can black not be calm? Classy? Or literate? You fear the progression of black all around you. You’re clenching your purse because of what? A tattoo? I raise a concern and that makes me sassy and rude. I dress how I feel confident, but anything I wear is lewd.

She’s light-skin, she’s mixed, she can’t say she’s black. Tell that to the people who’ve called me a nigger and laughed. Tell that to the security guard who put me outside, when my two fairer skinned friends got to stay inside. Tell that to the kids who stare at me in discomfort, when the word slave or racism is mentioned before us. Tell that to the high-school counselor that drove me away, from attending a college that was situated too close to Alabama one day.

The privilege I receive from my lighter toned black, is evident and real, but I will always be under attack. All black is beautiful and all black is assaulted. No matter the shade, society wants us all to be exhausted. My melanin is radiant and my curls are fucking fire. I have never and will never be an affirmative action hire.

I am smart and hard-working and earned my spot, not by fault. I land an achievement and all of a sudden everyone is salt. I will not fall prey to this self-fulfilling prophecy, that has succumbed too many living in this sad ass democracy. I’m black and I’m white and I’m bold and I’m bright. I’m everything you could ever want and I will not go down without a fight.

Differences in the Experience with Slavery for Men and Women

*Facts based off of information in my personal notes from my HST 247 African American History class that I took at DePaul University in 2019.

Slavery in the United States was racist, there is simply no denying that fact; however, as if enslaving human beings based off the color of one’s skin was not inhumane and unjust enough, slave owners sought to invoke treacherous punishments on slaves based off their genders. Slavery was aimed to make the enslaved feel that blackness was a shameful quality, but the minds behind slavery were darker than just racism. The gendering of slavery intertwined with the blatant racism created an intersection filled with hate, pain, suffering, and pure ignorance of morality. Both women and men endured separate, yet also the same, hells in a world where their voices were silenced.

 Women faced certain challenges that men did not see as often because of the objectification that the women faced from the slave owners. The literature piece, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, addresses several problems that women faced, and most of these problems stemmed from socially constructed archetypes that were developed. One of these archetypes was that of “Jezebel” (White 29). This archetype was made so that black women would be viewed as promiscuous, intensely sexual beings. The origination of this image was produced when the whites first encountered black women in Africa (White 29). Not only did this stand as a negative label, the Jezebel archetype had direct influence on the African American women’s lives. Since society viewed black women as overly sexual beings, when women were raped by slave owners, the rape was excused (White 32). Black women were thought to have no purity, whereas white women were pure women who deserved complete respect. An escaped slave, Christopher Nichols, recalled that a master that he had would take women and throw them over a bench and rape that woman in front of everyone (White 33). The men would not show any mercy and overpower any woman that he wanted to. The men would whip the women and rape them in front of their mothers and fathers and if the women resisted, further punishment was had (White 35).

The sexual objectification of women was an experience that many women faced, and slave owners would use the sexuality of women in an advantageous way. Slave owners would rape women in order to increase the number of slaves on the plantation, because the children would take the status of the women. One instance in history was the case of Celia. Celia was a young girl who suffered from intense sexual abuse from her owner. Eventually Celia grew tired of the treatment she faced from her owner and killed him. This case was brought to court and the rape was recognized, but it was not found illegal because the court felt that Celia, as a black woman, had no purity to be taken away. Celia fit into the Jezebel archetype and the actions that were proceeded in court supported the archetype. Even though Jezebel was promiscuous and sexy, she was not worthy of the same life as a white woman. Jezebel may not have been whipped and put to field work, but she was living a horrid reality that was filled with rape, hate, oppression, and violence.

While some women were being shamed for sexuality, other women were having their sexuality taken away. It was the socially constructed archetype of the “Mammy” that did this (White 46). The Mammy archetype represented a loving and caring black woman that had no interest in any sexual activity. This woman cared heavily for the slave owners’ children but was still viewed as a slave. This Mammy was held to high expectations and was relied on to perform several tasks, in good time, regardless of any constraints. Mammy was the prized house-slave and was seen to be worthy and reliable (White 47). Susan Eppes, a slave owner, would converse with her Mammy every day and viewed her Mammy as a sort of children’s keeper (White 47). Mammy was thought to be very well respected, which in turn, made some believe that maybe slavery was not as bad as it seemed. No matter how much respect a slave owner could have for a slave, that person was still supporting the brutal system of slavery. Even though Mammy was this woman who could do it all, her value when compared to a white woman was nonexistent. Mammy was capable and did work efficiently, but Mammy was still not viewed to be as worthy as a white woman and was nonetheless property of the slave owners. The women who faced this label were made to think that the “respect” received from the owners was a good way to live and that they were lucky to be out of the field and away from the lashes of the whip.

While women were being sexualized by the slave owners, men were facing unimaginable punishments. Men felt that they were powerless because the whites would take sexual advantage of their wives, daughters, and mothers, but the men could not do anything to stop the terror (Black 100). In the African culture, a man is expected to care for his family, but under slavery this notion was nonexistent. Henry Bibb wrote a slave narrative and spoke on the several brutalities that he suffered. He, and other enslaved men, felt that a man had a right to his wife and a right to his children, but the slave owners stripped black men of those rights (Black 111). This narrative was completely honest, and he was up front with everything that he felt and experienced. He said that, “I must be a slave for life—suffer under the lash or die.” (Black 103). This was the reality for several slaves, especially those following the first-generation slaves. When a slave was born into slavery, the only life that was known was one of oppression, hate, and pain—there seemed to be no way out, except for death. Bibb suffered intense violence during his time at the Whitfield Plantation, especially when he had a failed attempt to escape. He recalled in his narrative that, “My clothing was ripped off and I was compelled to lie on the ground…four stakes were driven in the ground, to which my hands and feet were tied (Black 105).” He was then lashed from head to foot repeatedly, almost to death. Bibbs was unable to work for several days and was separated from his family for the rest of his time on the plantation. Bibbs held back the rage to retaliate, because fighting back meant death and he refused to face death (Black 106). This is what made male slaves feel emasculated and powerless, they had to be brutally abused in front of their peers and family, but there was nothing that could be done to stop it. His pride was stripped off him and beaten away with each lash and flog that he faced.

Sometimes slaves would fight back, such as the actions of Solomon Northup. Unlike Bibbs, Northup was born a free man and was captured and brought into slavery. This ignited a different type of anger within that Bibbs did not have. Northup brought a lot of insight to the truth of how brutal slavery was. He recalled that, “Twenty-five [lashes] are deemed a mere brush, inflicted, for instance…when a branch is broken in the field… (Black 108).” This recollection goes to show that slaves—men for the most part—would face brutal punishments even for the slightest of mistakes, like a broken branch. Even no mistakes could lead to punishment if the slave owner felt like it. The day that Northup decided to fight back and stand up to his slave owner, is a day that he regrets. He pushed his slave owner down, seized his whip, and struck him repeatedly (Black 109). The reason that he regrets this is because he knew that severe punishment would come, in fact, his slave owner attempted to hang him, but decided to stop so that Northup could live a life of increased fear and more pain.

This is only a pebble in an entire mountain of history. I encourage everyone to read history from certified, credible sources and to deepen your knowledge on subjects that weren’t taught enough in secondary school, or high school. This concerns all histories and subjects, not just that of the United States and slavery. History is very important and much of the present can be explained by history. Education is a gift and knowledge is power.

Texts Used:

Dismantling Black Manhood: Daniel P. Black

Out of the House of Bondage-The Transformation of the Plantation Household: Thavolia Glymph

Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South: Deborah Gray White

           

Being Biracial

New Years Eve, 2008

I am very proud to be a woman of a mixed ethnic background, or as many would say, biracial. I find myself struggling to choose the term that is most “politically correct,” because race itself, such as: black and white, is a social construction. As a society, we have racialized ourselves, and I’m not sure how that can be undone. For the sake of this blog, I will use the term biracial, white, and black because I find no offense to those terms. Also, I must say that I understand there are endless combinations that could make one biracial, but this is my experience as being a woman with Irish, Italian, and Northern Africa heritage.

May I also add that this is in no way me complaining about being biracial and the things that I deal with, I am simply giving personal insight on what it is like to be a person of mixed race. I feel that it is important to know peoples struggles because then you can understand them more. I can guarantee that there are several others with a similar ethnic background that have experienced and felt similar things than I have. So, please, store this information in your mind and take it into consideration in your daily life.

Christmas Eve, 2018

Honestly. Being biracial can be so confusing at times and all the terminology makes it even worse. “Black” has been used to refer to those of African descent, but it also refers to anyone with a dark skin tone. But then I am also a light skin because I am a “lighter black.” But I am also white because when asked of the race I am when I fill out papers that do not have the ‘more than one race’s’ option, I select ‘black/African American’ and ‘white.’ I have had people tell me that I am not black enough to call myself black, but also people laugh at me when I say that I am white. It is almost like you can never win sometimes. Then there is also the fact that although I am white, I do not experience white privilege; however, since I am “light skin,” I know that I do experience light-skin privilege at times. It really is just like you’re stuck in the middle.

Probably one of the most frustrating things is the way that much of society looks at my family. I could not count on both of my hands the amount of disapproving and dirty looks that we have gotten from people in public. For some reason, in 2019, there are still people who think that “colors should not mix,” but let me tell you something, the world is not a fucking washing machine. I guess that these moments have made me love myself more and have pushed me to be proud of who I am. Sometimes, when I am feeling strong enough, I just take the negative energy and hate from others and use it to fuel my soul in hopes of some of my positive energy getting shared with those showing me the hate. Something else that I have had to deal with is hate from both sides of my ancestry. I have had dirty words and painful insults said to me from both those who identify as white and dark-skinned black people. I would have to say that it hurts more coming from the latter because what they don’t know is that I have experienced some of the discrimination that they have. That is something I never understood. Every group in this world that has been discriminated against at a large, social level should never show hate towards one another because we are all in the same damn boat and if we don’t band together and overcome, that damn boat is going to sink.

Palmer Campus Visit, 2018

If there is one thing that I would like to leave you with is that it doesn’t matter where someone came from or what they look like. If you love someone, then love them—and you should love everyone because at the end of the day we are all living this same confusing-ass life and we are more alike than we will ever be different. Appreciate and love all the beautiful diversity around you because one day, when your life ends, you want to be able to look back and think, “I was a person of love.”

A few philosophies I live by…

If there is one thing about myself that I am most proud of, it would be my ethnicity. Many people preach on how people should “not see color,” but to me, that is a load of bullshit. I hold the belief that people should see color and appreciate it. Recognize the cultural differences that we all have with each other and love them.

Educate yourself, surround yourself with those different from you, and before you know it, those differences will seem so minimal compared to the similarities that exist. I would say that my ethnic background has been the cause of instances of discrimination in my life, but it is not my ethnicity that caused the discrimination, it is society. Never feel that it is your fault for the terrible and horrendous things that others can do to you. No one deserves the pain that they receive.

The first instance of racism that I remember experiencing was when I was in the fourth grade, about eight or nine years old. I had gotten in an argument with an old friend, and that friend had called me the “n-word.” Now, as a young child, I had no idea what that word meant, and I went about my day. I came home and told my mother of the argument and the exchange of words and she was livid. It was that day that I was told what a racial slur was and why people use them. It was that day that I was made aware of racism. Since then there have been countless moments where I have recognized that I was being discriminated against. Whether it was girls on track teams crediting my speed to my blackness or dirty looks getting shown my way as my interracial family and I dine for dinner at a nice restaurant, I felt the hate the same way and it never hurts any less.

The thing about experiencing the microaggressions, slurs, and other hateful comments and actions, is that you must reach a point of acceptance that not everyone will like you for whatever reason and that is okay. You could argue with every person who is hateful towards you, or you could simply accept that that person has their opinion, show them love, and move on with life. Moving on with life and moving past the harsh words of others is the only way to survive. Sometimes it may seem impossible to release the negativity from others that you have internalized within yourself, but it is always possible to grow, and it is always possible to heal your soul.

I remember one day in an Intercultural Communications class I took when I was at DePaul, a very wise professor once told us that the worst lesson taught to most as children is that “sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” My professor was right. If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my life is that most of the time, words do more damage than sticks and stones ever could. Physical wounds are mostly visible and can usually be healed and cured, but emotional wounds? Emotional wounds grow every single day and hide themselves in toxic behaviors and are much harder to heal. I know it seems basic to say we should all “treat everyone with kindness,” but if it is such a basic thought, then why the hell are things the way they are? Yes, sometimes words get said during arguments that we do not necessarily mean, but then apologize for the words that you have said and be sure that it is a sincere apology that comes from your soul.

There is too little time in our lives to hate others and to hurt others—just love everyone. The idea that love can only be romantic is agonizing. Love can be whatever we want it to be. Make it your goal to show everyone love, even those who do you wrong, because those are the ones that need to be shown love the most. Another wise professor that I currently have at Palmer College of Chiropractic told my class that, “an enemy is just a friend whose story you don’t know.” This is also something that I believe very deeply within my soul. People like to think that they have others figured out, but we don’t even have ourselves figured out. People like to talk about how they “hate” certain television stars and artists, yet what do we really know about them? Hate is such a dirty and painful word, but it is used so loosely.

The next time you find yourself getting angered with someone that you do not know, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they have things going on in their life that you do not know and empathize with them—never pity them. Pity is ridiculous. Feeling bad for someone is pointless. You sit there with a sorry look on your face and watch them as they continue to struggle. But when you feel empathy and become an empathetic person you recognize their struggle, imagine if you were to be in that struggle, and then act on that feeling you get from imagining.

Regardless of any demographic quality you have, I know that you have experienced pain and hate from someone. Everyone does. You know how bad pain hurts and how it feels to hurt. That feeling deep in your chest that you get when you think of that painful event or when you think of the words that were said to you, do not forget it. Remember that feeling and every time you think about treating another person less than what you would like to be treated, think about that pain you felt and realize that you are about to make another person feel that way. Once you become that person that makes another person hurt, you become no more than the person that hurt you. Be the lover, not the hater. Spread love. Xx

“Lions don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.”

Flatbush Zombies “Palm Trees”