Watching George Floyd plead for his life with his last breaths broke my heart... and also changed me. It made me sad, it made me angry, and it made me realize what "they" see when they look at me. I never realized the genuine need to speak out in ownership of my identity as a black woman. I assumed anyone who looks at me can clearly see my ethnicity. It seemed like coming out of the closet to people when you've been wearing a shirt that says Lesbian on the front your whole life. I felt my actions, deeds and accomplishments would define what it meant to be a black woman. I thought they challenge the stereotypes that were negative. I thought being the best version of me I could be was enough.
Growing up black was a different experience for me than many people. My father is African American and my mother is mixed. I grew up living with my mom in Pittsburgh, PA. I was lucky. We were poor but I didn't face discrimination as a child. My neighborhood and school were diverse and my friends were all of all ethnic groups. I remember us all being treated the same. I didn't pick friends based off of anything other than who was fun to play with.
The summer before high school was the first time I noticed racial disparity. I tested into a performance arts school on the other side of town. My black friends from The Kingdom Hall (church) pulled me aside that summer. They told me, "Girl we need to teach you how to sound black before you get jumped." I'm a black girl who never learned to code switch to black! I spent the summer trying to learn but that fall I still got beat up in the bathroom at school.
In college, I'll never forget my father's dismay at dinner when I ordered baked chicken at one of the oldest historic jazz clubs in Detroit. He hissed across the table "Do you see white tablecloths up in here? Just order the fried chicken Melissa!" One of the last conversations we ever had was when he told me that talking to me "is like trying to talk to a white person about understanding the black experience and they don't get it either." We haven't spoken in three years but I've carried that assessment with me every day since.
What I wish I had said that day is I'm alive and I'm black so I AM living the black experience. My story may not be the same as others but when people look at me they see a black woman. I have stood up as a proud lesbian and spoke out for Gay Rights for years in an effort to fight for equality.
So let me say publicly for the first time what I always thought went without saying, "I am a Proud Black Woman!" I am sorry for all the times I didn't scream Black Lives Matter because I thought that was common sense and because I didn't feel black enough to say it. There is no black standard I must hit before I can cry out. I don't stand with you... I am you!
To my friends, thank you for treating me as though color never mattered. But also please stand beside me and speak out against racism because sadly in 2020 it still does. Black men and women are needlessly killed day after day and tomorrow is not promised. If you have stayed silent because speaking out is uncomfortable, I assure you I understand. This blog is the most uncomfortable and personal thing I've ever written. But imagine that the video of George Floyd was a video of me. Then show the same sadness, anger and desire for change. He had a fiancee, he had a mother, he had a future.
I will try to remember that the world doesn't change overnight but that every voice makes a difference. When I have a child, I will explain that although everyone is created equal the world may not see or treat us that way. Where we look for understanding we may find fear. I will tell them there is no RIGHT way to be black. But I will tell them that in 2020, I found my voice. And that I used it to create a better world for them. Please make 2020 the year you find yours. Because Black Lives Matter. 💕