I always strive to be an activist, but I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I have felt that I actually am an activist. I always think that whatever I do isn’t enough. I am in constant fear that I will always be called out, told how wrong I am, that I am so far into academics that I could never be a revolutionary.
My life revolves around race. I’m majoring in African American Studies, and I write this blog. I go to rallies, to marches, and constantly have discussions that others wouldn’t think about having. But I know that even with all that, it isn’t enough. What I want to do is dissect that feeling, and hopefully find a way to mute that somewhat.
As I grew up, I watched as my family crossed into lower middle class. for a long time, we were comfortable, we had everything we could ever want or need, and I never once had a worry about having enough money for my education. The rate my parents were going, I was expecting a car on my sixteenth birthday, and I knew exactly how I wanted it to be customized. My father would always talk about finishing up his payments toward our first house, and then going on and buying four more, enough for me and my siblings. We weren’t rich by any means, but we certainly weren’t poor. It was a good time, and I think that I’m always going to remember it as the golden era. This was the time where I was educated on racism, but I was naïve and I definitely believed that I wasn’t affected by it during this time. I had a whole bunch of friends, I was in the Gifted and Talented program, and I felt like I was free from the fates of the girls who died from the Birmingham bombs, and I felt that Rosa Parks had helped get rid of all the racism. I was in a bubble of innocence, and I know that my parents could have easily popped that bubble. I thank them for giving me that precious time to be a child, in spite of me being in such a hurry to grow up.
I can remember the first time I realized I was not valued as a black woman. It was in high school. I went to a different high school, a charter school, at the insistence of my mother that it would get me to college. I was one of then three black girls in my class. Most of the students were Hispanic or Latino, and there were a few Asian students, I believe one was from Taiwan, and I can’t remember where the other girl came from. But I remember upon arriving at my high school that I was out of place. Most of these students went to middle school together, and they already had their friend groups. So I expected to be able to fit into one group, that maybe one of them would accept me. But that was far from the case. I was the weird black girl who should have acted ghetto but acted like una gringa instead. I was dubbed the outcast, and I remember those lunches I spent eating by myself. It seemed that everyone wanted to be friends with the exotic Asian girls and the basketball- playing black guys, but us black girls were not welcome. We took up too much of their space simply by being there, and they made that known.
I found my solace in the upperclassmen that took me in. One of the upperclassmen was a black woman. She was loud, she was fun, she spoke her mind, and above all, she was unapologetic. I was fascinated with her. How much space she allowed herself to take up while feeling at ease with it was something that I had never seen before in my entire life. I was always the quiet girl, the girl who would have all the right answers but would be terrified to raise her hand to actually say them. I was the girl who had so much to say, but didn’t think she was valued enough to ever say them. And here she was, being as loud as she can be, and not giving a single care in the world about what someone was going to think or say about her. She was bold, she was fierce, and I wanted so much to be able to do the same.
Throughout high school, I remained the quiet girl, the girl who didn’t fit. The girl who was too white to be black and too black to be white. I was everything; in-between, and nothing all at the same time. I wanted so badly to be able to speak up and say what I want to, but was always quieted with the stereotypical, “You’re just angry.” and “You need to quit being so emotional.” Something I noticed all the time was the way the other girls in my class would have something to say to me, yet they never wanted to actually be an adult and talk things out. I was young, yet I felt so old. I was on a completely different level. While these students were worried about whether they were going to get the latest iPhone, I was wondering if I could make it to graduation, if I was going to live to see that day. My life was spent watching after my siblings while my mom went to the laundromat or to go grocery shopping. It wasn’t an easy life, nor was it unique.
Coming to college, I feel that knowing that I was in a completely different state where no one at all knew me gave me the strength to come into my own. I found myself empowered by placing myself in groups that I knew would give me as much as I put into them. And going into freshman year in the wake of the Ferguson protests, I knew that as a black female student, my life would not be the same, nor could I sit around and wait for something to happen to me.
Throwing myself into writing, reading, and putting it out has been one of the most powerful things for me. It feels nice, to have created my own platform to say what I need to say, what I want to say, without being interrupted or stopped or belittled. This is my place where I can speak for myself, where I can highlight the people who I see doing the work and what type of work needs to be done. This is the place for me to let loose and let out everything apologetically.
So sure, maybe I may sound angry. But at least I have my own space and every right in the world to be.