When the Black Gets Too Heavy
There is a certain weight that accompanies being black.
I receive a notification concerning an award ceremony being held by my college. Pride flushes over me as I read the email stating that the head of the department wants to meet with me after the ceremony. My stomach flutters and a lump forms at the base of my throat as I make my way to the podium. I introduce myself and an unbearable heat washes over my face as I see his disappointment upon setting eyes on me.
My five year old son and I are conversing during bath time, and with a concerned face, he proceeds to tell me a story about a confrontation he had on the playground involving his best friend and two other boys. My son and his friend — his Caucasian friend — had been approached by the boys who asked, “Why do you play with dirty black people?” Confused and wounded, my son asked me why the boys called him black when his skin was clean and brown.
Although being black is not a topic that comes up over a cup of morning tea, it does become a painful punchline on a day-to-day basis.
I am at work engaging in a friendly conversation with co-workers when someone mentions the Ferguson feed. There is a certain suspense that accompanies topics like racial inequalities or injustice. Time slows to a trickle, the air gets heavier, and the black in one’s skin, the black that was held dear for more than twenty-three years, is now more prominent than ever. My heart pounds as I wait to hear different perspectives, and my ears ring as eyes focus intensely on my reaction.
“How do you feel about Rachael Dolezal?” Before this point, it was rare for someone to ask how it felt to be a black woman. My sisters and cousins were outraged that a white lady would “pretend” to be black as if there’s some rite of passage involved. It made me ashamed to say that I had no problem with Dolezal’s actions, that I, in fact, applauded her intentions. There is a double stigma attached to being a black woman; in a way, it’s as if no one wants to be a female and black. Also, I couldn’t honestly express my opinions about the topic without feeling ostracized from black womanhood altogether.
Before these moments, one does not dwell on the fact that grandma taught the boys to fear the police rather than applaud their service. At times like these, the weight of the culture falls like an anvil, and it sits on the chest of every black person around.
I can’t say what it was like to live during slavery or the Civil Rights movement. I don’t know how it feels when another ethnic group yells a racial slur or how it feels to be denied access to something because of my skin color. However, I know twenty-three years of black. I know twenty-three years of being flushed with shame when someone says I’m pretty for a black girl, and I know the embarrassment when you, the only black student, are accused of stealing the candy off the teacher’s desk. I also know the anger of being labeled as an exception to the rest of your race after receiving credit for an accomplishment.
At times like these, the weight of black skin begins to crush vital organs, and surviving anywhere becomes awkward and difficult. At times like these, the weight of black skin becomes a scarlet letter that displays pain and suffering of people long past. At times like these, one’s inner light is obscured by the thickness of black skin, becoming nothing more than a mere shadow.