I need to talk about identity and caring for each other because these are the only things I talk about and if you didn’t know that by now, you must be new here.
But before I get into me and my shit: I want to say to all of my fellow people of color: please be gentle with yourselves. The last two years, and every single one of the centuries before these last two years, have been chock full of some bullshit. And now more than ever we are bombarded every second of every day with news about how absolutely and completely racist everyone is, subtly and not so fucking subtly. So please, please, please, be gentle with yourselves.
Lately, I find I am permanently glued to my phone, unable to do anything but read new articles, retweet activists I respect and admire, and cry. I feel so anxious, so totally devastated and so guilty. Because, in a wash of other things I feel, I keep reminding myself that I am half white. This struggle is mine and it also isn’t mine. And the paralysis I feel in that duality often leaves me weak, tired and self-loathing.
Now and then I see posts circulating amongst my black peers reminding folks to take time for themselves. That it is okay to need support. That it’s okay to turn off the news. And I think, yes, it’s okay not to constantly consume these images, not to watch kids who look like me lose their lives, their parents, their futures. It’s okay not to constantly pour over these stories that tear open my heart… but then another voice kicks in. A voice that says “sit your white-privilege-having-ass down in front of this dumpster fire, Nicky”. That demands I have a responsibility to keep looking. Because this struggle is mine, and it isn’t mine. And for all the ways it’s not mine, I owe it to my community to keep looking, to keep being outraged, to keep being vocal. To not pretend that the worst parts of our past, our present, have nothing to do with me. That somehow they are not also mine to own.
And this is something I continue to turn over in my mind. What have the two sides of myself done to each other.
I turned 28 last month, and I still have a hard time identifying. It is still hard for me to say, “I am a black woman”….*, without necessarily throwing an asterisk on it. There are black people who would tell you that my mixed heritage automatically disqualifies me from “real blackness”. There are white people who would tell you I must be black because I am absolutely not white. There are black people who would argue that of course I am black, because I have a black experience of the world and of this country. There are white people who would argue that race doesn’t exist.
Here’s the truth: I am black, insofar as I get followed around in expensive stores. I am black insofar as I feel I might be killed anytime I hear police sirens. I am black insofar as my white family wasn’t full clear what to do with my hair as a kid, so we shaved my head. I am black insofar as I have been called nigger more than once in my life. I am black insofar as I was accused of being accepted to Yale thanks to my race and not my intelligence. I am black insofar as people are still stunned that I’m articulate, people compliment my eloquence and applaud my large vocabulary as though they’d never thought it possible. I’m black insofar as I’ve been pegged to portray Rosa Parks in more than one MLK day assembly, and then been double cast as Coretta Scott King. I am black insofar as when I change my hair it is a topic of conversation amongst my coworkers for a full 24 hours. I am black insofar as I’ve inherited the trauma of my ancestors, and the paranoias of my father.
But I am also exceptionally privileged. Lightskin privilege is real, because white privilege is real. Colorism is real because white supremacist culture is real. And not only am I privileged because I am lighter skinned, but also because I have white people in my family that can vouch for me, should, say, ICE choose to detain me. If I were being denied a loan or an apartment, I have white family members who might be able to step in and smooth things over. Should my dead body wind up in an evening news segment, I have a middle-class white mom who would garner sympathy and outrage from people who never before gave a fuck about people who look like me. I have the strange and uncomfortable privilege of being deemed more “desirable” according to white patriarchal bullshit standards. I am more readily accepted into white spaces because I am a shade that is by and large deemed “non-threatening”, whatever the fuck that means. I have the privilege of having been socialized around white people, and therefore, knowing intrinsically how to make them feel safe. That is, by the way, an incredibly ugly privilege to have and to acknowledge. But it is one I would be lying to say didn’t exist. And that privilege means sometimes I don’t get to feel comfortable claiming “self-care”, turning off the news and eating a sheet cake. And I shouldn’t.
I don’t claim to know what being caught in the middle feels like for other mixed kids. I don’t claim to know really what the moral is for me. I cried a lot today because more often than not I am so tired of the whole damn mess.
I do know that I love black people with my whole heart. That I feel so incredibly blessed to be even halfway black, and I’m constantly in awe of the strength and resilience of this community. I feel so deeply indebted to blackness for every blessing it has given me, and the rest of the world. No number of racists in the history of the world would make me wish to be any other way.
But I also know that I feel a bottomless sorrow for the humanity we’re deprived in this country. I know I feel unspeakable grief when I see us strip humanity from each other in an effort to gain some semblance of status in a society that never cared for us. I feel a rage more vast than oceans when I think who my father might have been if he hadn’t carried the weight of tireless oppression on the back of his own heavy life. I feel angry for everything and everyone that we’ve lost. And I feel guilt for all the things no one asked me to give up only because my mom was looking.
I know that nothing I do will matter to me if I can’t find a way to lift us up while doing it. There is nothing I want more than to hold space for us when it feels like we can’t go on. There is nowhere I’d rather be than at the side of black folks when it all goes down. And the only way I know how to do that is by acknowledging that being in this in between space is still uncomfortable for me. And, likely, for the communities on either side of me. The only thing I know how to do is promise to keep trying to be the best version of myself. To carry the torch, and pass the mic. I can only be me and speak for myself, which rarely feels like enough, but must be.
I write this to keep myself off Twitter for five minutes. To keep my brain occupied with hope rather than despair. To acknowledge myself with love and compassion for the strange space I occupy. To say that despite the best efforts of generations of racism, bigotry, miscegenation laws, and hysteria, I am here. Still.
And proud. Still.
So, happy Black History month, kids. And before you go:
Blackface is racist, and always has been. Crack a book.
Blaming all black folks for the actions of one of us is racism.
Racism is racism. Learn what every strain looks like and call it when you see it. You know a racist and you have a friend who is racist and you have a family member who is racist, and at least once, you did something racist. Stop pretending racism lives somewhere that’s not your house.
Believe women. The first time.
Believe black women.
Believe survivors. The first time.
Let black kids be kids.
Believe, support, and uplift black LGBTQ folks.
DID YOU HEAR ME? Keep that same energy for trans lives. Every day.
If you don’t support any and ALL black folks, you are anti-black.
Being pro-black is not anti-white, or anti-anyone else for that matter. Except racists. Be anti-racist all day.
We can all be better, do better and try harder. Want it as much as you want your own success. Make it your life’s work. I intend to make it mine.