How it feels to be black

How it feels to be black

By Torie Richardson, St. Teresa's Academy

Recently, I had a conversation with my father and another friend of our family. Though this situation was mostly a conversation (as opposed to an interrogation), the man asked me a question that made me pause: “What’s it like to be black?” He knew, of course – his skin was even darker than mine. But I think he was curious about how I would respond. I’d never really thought about it before. What is it like to be me? To be treated a certain way based on your appearance? Here is my response:

Being black means you have to sit a little straighter to be considered poised. You have to speak properly to avoid being thought of as ghetto. You have to be careful in stores, because you know people are already suspicious of your blackness, a word synonymous with “thief.”

Being black means no matter who you encounter, they will judge you for being black. God forbid your skin is darker than a Hershey’s bar or your name ends in -isha. That, of course, is nearly irredeemable.

Being black means cringing when another black person is acting foolishly, because you know it will affect the way people view you.

To be black means to come from a line of people who stood up for what they believed in unconditionally. Who were so smart they sang in code. It means coming from inventors, from geniuses, from hard workers.”

Feeling black means feeling underrepresented everywhere. In the media. In your country’s accounts of history. Even in your own school, where you don’t have any black teachers.

Being black means feeling at home with your white friends, but knowing that you are the odd one out when you’re together in public. That the worst thing that can happen to a white man’s son is for him to marry a black girl.

Being black means you are black, and nothing else.

It means that the color of your skin defines you.

Being black means you should be able to play basketball, and run track. It means you should have a big voice and butt to match. It means that you’re hot-tempered and may be pretty, but only “for a black girl.”

At least, that’s what I’ve been taught.

But I can’t help but feel as if there is something more. I can’t help but look at my black parents in pride. At my dad, who was the first black man to graduate from UMKC with a pharmaceutical degree. At my mom, who hates her name because she thinks it sounds ghetto, but is one of the smartest people I know.

And maybe the things I mentioned before are how it’s supposed to feel to be black. But maybe they are projections. Because when I really settle into my skin, it is powerful.

To be black means to come from a line of people who stood up for what they believed in unconditionally. Who were so smart they sang in code. It means coming from inventors, from geniuses, from hard workers.

To be black is to be different. It is not better. But, unlike what I’ve been taught from the world around me, it is not worse.

To be black is to be human.

It means you are worthy of dignity and respect.

It means you deserve a chance.

But, for some reason, my blackness seems to cover others’ eyes of the truth.

This experience is not perpetuated by one person, though. It is supported by those who laugh at stereotyping and refuse to examine their own intentions. By those who claim they are “not racist,” but continually marginalize those who are different than them. By you, reader, who think of others while reading this column, but refuse to look in the mirror.

How does it feel to be black? You decide.