I have written in the past about racial identity and what it means to be Black in this country. This is something that I constantly reflect upon. It’s important to me, because we all struggle to discover/embrace/cultivate our identities.
Recently, I was at a conference where I was asked to share what my racial identity means to me, and for the first time I couldn’t identify as Black as easily as I once could. Being Black in this country means so many things, and comes with a burden that takes a daily toll. I couldn’t identify with ease because I refuse to identify with a term that was created to confine people who look like me. I refuse to ascribe to a classification created to subjugate me and minimize my worth. Black and White are social constructs. They are not racial identities.
Listening to the group at the conference share, I was saddened to think that as adults we still have trouble separating our social class from our ethnicity. Black is an identity that was given to us, forced upon us. Considering this, two questions come to mind.
One: As an African-American if I am not Black, then what am I?
Two: How do I identify with the Black experience without conforming to social constructs created to divide?
I am angry that at 33 I am still discovering, embracing, and cultivating my identity. However, I do believe that as an African-American this is normal. So much of what we see and hear in the media is crafted to confuse and cause us to question our self-worth. As people of color, someone else is always defining who we are, and communicating that to the world.
This is in part why I decided to explore and learn more about my DNA. It has always troubled me, not knowing where I am from. Some of my friends of color have challenged me in my search, suggesting that I am American and that is all. I disagree; this is not enough. Saying that I am just American robs me of a rich cultural history that defines resiliency and strength. Robbing me of my African roots, encouraging me to just accept that I am American, is akin to telling me that “all lives matter” when they clearly do not.
So how do I answer when asked about how I identify racially? I could just say that I am African-American, but for me that still isn’t enough. That only tells part of the story. I take pride in our history of struggle and perseverance in a land that continues to view us as “other”. And, I also take pride in the history of our African roots. I choose to identify with the entire story, because in wholeness there is truth. I am African-American. I am African. In me is the blood of kings and queens. This is me finding my “Black” and owning it. I am a person of color living in the United States of America, and I fight daily to never lose sight of that fact and what it means.