I’m struggling with the burden of feeling responsible for the sensibilities of the very people who are responsible for the struggle.
I don’t want to alienate you but I can no longer maintain the lie of the “happy darkie,” the shuckin’ and jivin’ farcical of blackness.
My life is no minstrel show.
Oh Susannah won’t be crying for me because she never cared.
When I was younger, my sisters and I used to go to assisted living facilities and sing for the residents. I sang “Dixie” ignorantly and blithely for the sake of entertainment.
I haven’t figured out whether or not my mama’s friend was cognizant of the bitter irony of three little black girls singing “Dixie ” to groups of white people. Sometimes I blame it on her foreignness–she was Dutch. The cynic in me says she would have to have been tone deaf to not be aware of the controversy and dubious history surrounding the song.
I used to think that my color was a burden and a secret. I felt like I was responsible for my situation and mentioning it was in poor taste. I felt like I just hypersensitive and overthinking things. I wore my sense of otherness like the skin on my back.
In order for racism to be a problem in the 1980s and 1990s it had to be blatant, verbally or physically violent. If it wasn’t shouted or used pejoratively, it didn’t exist. “We Are the World” and all that jazz.
You calling me a “nigger” is you throwing 600 some odd years of your people’s oppression of my people in my face.
But the n-word doesn’t have to be vocalized for me to be cognizant of your true feelings about me.
Telling me to be quiet; accusing me of “playing the race card” or “race baiting” all fit into the category of racism. I didn’t understand how serious it was until I began to realize that people lived and died based on the color of their complexion. Those who complain that “it’s all you talk about,” are complaining from a place of privilege. White privilege.
I cannot separate my life from my color; it’s part of my identity whether I like it or not. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I am a black woman. When I thought that education and articulate speech would distinguish me, I was ridiculed. When I believed that politeness and magnanimity would make me stand out I was reminded. When I felt that branching out of my comfort zone would set me apart I was rebuffed.
After all, if education and articulate speech, politeness and magnanimity were the requirements for black men and women to be viewed respectfully, as people worthy of dignity and compassion then people like Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Zara Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde , Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Octavia Butler and countless others would have transcended the economic, social and political confines of their color and eradication the need for people to protest and fight against the restrictions, discrimination and systemic racism that black people yet face today.
So when I make reference to the elephant in the room and you get upset that I mentioned the huge, leathery, intimidating imposition it creates, I start to wonder who really is the problem here?