“You’re not really Black, though.”
I’ve been told this an embarrassing number of times. By people of all races. It’s been delivered as a joke. As a compliment. As an insult.
And I started to believe it. I didn’t even know what it truly meant, but I was more than happy to entertain comments about my so-called racial ambiguity. I just accepted it as a part of who I was, because for as long as I can remember people have always played guessing games to try to figure out which group I belonged to. No one ever guessed that for a long time I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of them.
I’ve gone to schools where I am clearly the minority my entire life. There were only 3 other black kids in my entire graduating class. I never wanted my race to make me stand out. I struggled with my sense of racial identity for quite some time. I don’t blame my identity crisis on my education or where I grew up. I feel lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had in my life. I think we all have times where we have to figure out where we stand socially, and we become hyper aware of how others perceive us. Of course, I knew that I was black. I just didn’t want anyone to acknowledge it. When you’re deprived of color for so long, you become a ghost to try to blend in. That is exactly what I was. I wanted people to see through my skin color, as if it didn’t exist. So anytime race was brought up, I didn’t say much. People have two reactions to ghosts when they speak up. They get really uncomfortable or they think it’s a joke. As a result, people said some really ignorant things around me. I’ll never forget when Trayvon was murdered and they said he deserved it. And they laughed about how the could shoot any black kid in the street because they knew they could get away with it. I knew this was a moment I should reclaim my voice, but I had been silent for so long, I didn’t know what to say. I vented to my other white friends who were also offended, and they offered their support if I wanted to say something to the administration or to the kids themselves. But I knew it would be another he said-she said battle, and I was tired of the mumbled apologies that didn’t mean anything. So instead, I walked away. I cried. I let it go. Remained a ghost.
Once again, I go to a school where I am a minority, but I’ve never felt prouder to be a black woman in my entire life. I know that a lot of it has to do with finding my identity in God, and not in what others think. I think it also has to do with growing up. With all of these black men and boys and women being killed, my fear for the lives of my brothers and sisters is greater than my fear of speaking up. All I can think about when I see the news is that there are so many names that didn’t get national attention. More boys who have been robbed of their future, because of their skin color. More black children deprived of the fathers they deserve. More women who will never see their kids grow up. I feel so many emotions and that it is hard to put into words. It’s also hard for me to know that there are so many people who don’t care. They don’t have to. Or they justify these murders. I wish I could change the channel, but I can’t. I have to check to make sure that the daily hashtag isn’t a name I recognize. Even when I don’t recognize the name, I recognize the face. I see my dad sitting and reading on a bench. I see my brother walking home eating skittles. I see my uncle saying he can’t breathe. I see my friend with his hands in the air. I see my my aunt talking back to a police officer.
This is much more than a black and white issue. This is a people issue. This is a loving your neighbor issue. This is a broken world issue. This is not a post about gun violence. Or politics. It’s a post about a girl who got tired of letting her ghost stories haunt her.
So maybe it was easier to be a ghost.
To be quiet and to blend into the background.
To let people vent and just shake my head and roll my eyes.
To just hope things would get better.
Maybe it was easier to wish that people would stop rationalizing murder.
To wish that I could find my skin color in a crayon box.
To want to have a name that people said correctly on the first try.
Maybe it was easier to allow myself to pretend that I fit in.
To let my long hair and light skin to confuse people.
To laugh off all comments about me not being black enough.
To pretend that being black has anything do to with acting a certain way.
Embracing who I am means that I can no longer be a ghost.
Because no one is standing up for the ghosts of black boys and men and women.
And their ghosts are haunting the streets of Florida, New York, North Carolina…
You can find one on every street corner in America,
And those ghosts are waiting for someone to speak up.
Waiting for someone to realize that they were a person whose life mattered.
And some will wait forever, and their names will be long forgotten.
I know they don’t need apologies.
I wish I could find justice, but she’s been missing for decades.
However, there is still something I can do.
For all the people who didn’t become a hashtag.
I will no longer be a ghost.
I am alive.