I am Black, and I need you to See me.

I remember in high school, there was a tendency for my white friends to say “Oh but you’re not really Black,” because I was not like so many of the stereotypes they used to construct the meaning of what Black was. And I remember being deeply uncomfortable with the “compliment” and saying “No, I really am.” The same kinds of things happen when I refer to myself as any synonym of fat. It makes people uneasy when you readily own what is oft suggested to be negative or undesirable. You do not fit their schema or The schema of what it means to be those things and so they try to separate the two. When in actuality the situation is an opportunity for them to stretch their understanding of what it means to be Black or Fat or whatever.

I typically try to remain silent on social media about politics and controversial topics. The reason being, I have many friends that I truly adore that have drastically different views than I do and I hate the feeling of immobile and unable-to-speak-to-able space between us. Peace is much more important to me than publicly voicing my opinions. I can also own that I’ve had the uncomfortable moment of having relationships severe irreparably because of these differences. I was no longer the person, usually the Black person, they thought I was and they were no longer the person, usually the White person I thought they were. Disenchantment is a bitter end.

In light of recent events, however, I have been extremely vocal. That is for two and possibly more reasons but I’ll stick with two. One is that I feel a responsibility given my position to be able to sit in the discomfort for the sake of “having the conversation.” Basically, I have the capacity to do so, and so why would I not? I did not always. Especially around issues of race, I was too close to it and too emotional. Also, given my position as an academic an educator and a “learned person” I have the good fortune (tongue in cheek, it was hard work NOT fortune) of understanding many of the issues beyond the symptoms, deeper than the anger I can understand it and speak to it from the level of the pain and the hurt. I recognize that is a gift and it feels socially irresponsible to squander it.

Lastly, because it is time. It was time that I not only found my voice but used it and did so in service of something greater than myself. I do not mean Black people, I mean All people. I do believe a common misconception is that by speaking up about Black issues in “Dear white people” fashion is that it is purely satirical and patronizing. It is partly that and it is also a mechanism that can begin meaningful dialogue about race. We cannot be afraid to talk about race anymore in this country. Not cry about it, and not pretend that the social construction of it negates the existence of meaning being made from it. No, it is time that we all sat down and were at least willing to try to begin to listen to one another AND speak to our own experiences. Everyone’s story and perspective has value and a conversation about Black lives does not diminish the need to discuss Asian lives or Latino lives or Non-Monoracial lives or whatever. It is an opportunity for all of us to stretch and accommodate this story into our understanding of what it means to be Black. My humanness and my Blackness are not mutually exclusive. And that single simple fact is the source of so much contention because far too often in this country it feels like the inverse; to be Black is outside of humanity.

I do not want the conversation to stop because I am an Angry Black woman. Part of my anger comes from my environment not taking care to understand why I’m angry. We have all come to be seen, to be heard, to be brought into existence by one another and right now Black people are screaming and crying and rioting for it. It does nothing for our progress as a people for anyone to say “well we all have issues, we all matter.” Yes, but right now I need you to hear, see and bring into existence MY issues. I need you to hear, see and bring into existence that I matter. That is what we are ultimately asking for as a people in this movement right now. Hear us. See us. Acknowledge that we are here and we matter; BRING US INTO EXISTENCE. Include us as human. Treat us as human. Love us as human by acknowledging our Black lives and our Black stories told with our Black voices. It may be true that ultimately that is what every social movement is asking for.

So my anger is not unfounded, nor is it specifically directed towards white people there are some Black people who are fervently ignoring Blackness as we speak. And let me just say, it does not ever make a thing go away to ignore it if it’s there, ask any man with a pebble in his shoe. When we can come to a place of hearing, of seeing, of existing to one another then policy changes are a given, I think. But not before. Never before, because prior to mattering we only come up with temporary fixes, it is because we have not accurately defined the issue.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be silent again. Something tells me I won’t. But if it takes my voice to get closer to bringing Black into existence, then I will gladly be of service to the cause. Where would you have me go? What would you have me do, Lord? What would you have me say? To whom?

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9 thoughts on “I am Black, and I need you to See me.

  1. Jess thank you. I found your request so profound and beautiful and I asked myself how, in my everyday life can I do more to honour this? And, in what ways do I ask people to leave their race/ethnicity/ and other aspects of self at the door in order to have a conversation with me? I am a university librarian – so a kind of gatekeeper, I guess, so these questions seem especially important to me in that capacity. And now I am wondering if as an institution, how are we ok/not ok with this… Thank you, really thank you.

    1. Thank you, Rowena, for sharing. I was talking to a few colleagues about this and I shared with them that sometimes you just have to let people grieve. Stop rushing to the solution, the “it’s going to be okay” or the “here’s what we have to do to fix it” and just allow people to cry and hurt and feel. Simply BEING THERE is not-so-simple and not enough people are okay enough with discomfort to allow for that kind of space. But it is absolutely imperative to healing, progress, and evolution. The roles we play in our institution may be to solve, fix, and rectify, but we are humans first.

  2. This was so nicely written Jess. Thank you for sharing. I especially appreciate your call to bringing Black voices into existence, it’s a valid statement. This I enjoyed too: “My humanness and my Blackness are not mutually exclusive.” We must not forget that one.

    1. Thank you for reading, love. I think so many people are dying to be called into existence. Literally. We go to extremes just to be recognized. There’s this quote that Zachary shares, “If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” that is where I feel we are right now with humanity. We would sooner destroy ourselves than to continue being invisible or dehumanized.

  3. Jess, this was a great post. I agree with all that your points of views as they look the same when stretched out laid alongside my own. There are times when I too choose to remain silent in social networks when I see issues of politics that are controversial. However, I’ve began to change my tactics and simply be a light in the darkness. I never directly address anyone’s point of view, but I will offer up logical and provicative points of view that are what I refer to as seeds. If relationships are lost because my point of view could not be tolerated, then I much wonder if the relatiinship was authentic in the first place. I won’t exist in a space made of paper maché and distortions that are constructed by those that are most happy when I am openly in agreement with or silently protesting their ignorance. I often think of the Johari Window and how the failure to share and the failure to have yourself reflected back onto you breeds an environment for ignorance and prejudice (create blindspots). I won’t leave my beliefs, culture and race at the door. It’s a real thing and must be considered in all cases. In group communication we are told to know our audience, but amongst our friends we are told to just fit in and tolerate the status quo. When encountering the heat, cold, darkness or even traveling the sea… One must honor the differences in how to navigate each. We can’t just decide to pick one frame of mind in hopes of managing successfully regardless. Differences must be recognized and honored to garner a sense of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance.

    1. There was a comment made by Gabrielle Union in an interview she did recently about her growing intolerance for those who had voice but chose to remain silent; wasting their opportunity. I’ve come to feel similarly, and taking into consideration my audience, my surroundings, the context I might alter my delivery but it’s only because I want to be heard. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of the message I’m trying to deliver. I think that’s a scary place to be in though. And it’s not a place I would have always chosen.

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