These are things I have always wanted to say. I have lived feeling suffocated because I feared making you feel uncomfortable. I know that even though our realities are vastly different and that you fail to notice the many instances of microaggressions I experience while we are together, you are warm and a very giving person. And I brought myself to think “That would do, it seemed like, that is the only way it could be.” So, I taught myself to not expect empathy from you, I realized that I can only seek comfort from my other Black friends. And I grew to dread hearing your true feelings about the “Black Panther” movie. I inevitably was unable to share the whole of me with you. But today, I want to give you a glimpse into this part of me, to share with you how the experience of navigating the world in a Black body has been for me.
Did you know, that to live in a Black body is to live in a state of constant trauma? That you are forced to quickly understand that you will inevitably face aggression from people for no other reason but the color of your skin? The nature of aggression may range from a micro-level to a lethal one, but all of them are traumatic non-the-less (am not equating them). In the beginning, it really felt like something was inherently wrong with me until I realized that I was never really the problem. You see, when we are children as we grow, we all get to a point where we gain a realization of self and the world around us. For a Black child, a substantial part of that realization (in the words of Baldwin) is that ‘no matter how many colors there are, you are the “wrong” color’.
And this is a global experience. Anti-Blackness is culturally sanctioned in literally all societies. This is the elephant in the room. To live in a Black body in this anti-Black world is to feel second-hand humiliation when you overhear your father, as he winds down from a business trip recount how he, the only Black person in a plane from Morocco, was ignored and disregarded by air hostesses who moved on to politely attend to the other passengers. It is having to suppress your anger when your sisters are chased out of a store by the Indian owner because she took some time considering which beads to buy – and this was in my own country – an African country.
To be Black is to have to research the level of a country’s racism before applying for that study abroad program. It is being walked home at the end of a lovely first date just to get to the door and have him blurt out blatantly “I am so happy we hang out. I really love African women. I just like how they are shaped. They are just sexy”. It is having to listen to a Black guy friend swear that he would never consider Black women because they are ‘tOo BiG and uNconStraiNeD.’ It is having a Black girlfriend tell you “Why don’t you try weaves? You are now a woman; you should do something about your hair!” It is being told by your very close Chinese American friend to redo your hair because ‘IT LOOKS TOO BLACK.’ It is being rejected by a Korean landlord because ‘you will make the other tenants uncomfortable.’ It is having innocent children ask you if you are poor … because ‘your skin is dark.’ It is to walk into a subway and have a group of Korean women rub your skin and exclaim ‘Oh! It won’t rub off!’ while her friend tugs at your braids.
It is to be stopped at the immigration desk for an hour in Cambodia, while everyone else walks past you as the officials just stare at your passport. It is to be turned back at the one immigration desk in Bangkok and to have to plead with another immigration official to look at your passport even though you have a visa. It is to be told on the first day at your job that ‘how you behave will determine if we ever hire a Black person again.’ It is to dread to read the comments on YouTube videos featuring strong powerful Black women like Michelle Obama or Serena Williams because there will always be comments calling them “men” and “ugly.” It is watching your friend go through a long and painful break up with his girlfriend because the family cannot stomach her marrying a Black man.
To live in a Black body is to fear to say anything when all these things are happening to you because if do, you are perceived as being scary. It is to fear to start a conversation about it because if you do, you are being burdensome and playing the victim. It is to be denied a voice and to be denied the right to be angry about it.
Exhausting, right? But these are just some of the experiences I go through daily, and I am not even counting xenophobic experiences, because those ones are not unique to Black people. These experiences are not even half as bad as what some of my friends have been through; including one who was beaten in a bus in Busan while nobody stood up to help. And all these are experiences in societies outside America, so you can imagine just how much more we need to listen to Black Americans!
Thus, I will say it again, anti-Blackness is engrained in the fabric of every society. It is culturally sanctioned prejudice. If you still cannot see it after all this, then it is just willful ignorance to be honest. It is you choosing to look away. I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I would like you to consciously work towards creating a healthy environment for all people. This is not going to just take a few days, possibly months and even years, if we are to re-educate ourselves and emancipate ourselves from these white supremacist ideas that there is a hierarchy of races. Because anti-Blackness has real-life consequences for Black people and all of us as a human race.
It is for this reason that we must acknowledge ‘Black excellence,’, ‘Black is beautiful’, ‘Black boy joy’, ‘Black girl magic’ … and for goodness sake … that BLACK LIVES MATTER!!
Written by: Mango J Angar
Edit by: Lisa Espinosa