Monday, March 23, 2015

Black But Not Like Me

I had a recent conversation with a woman from Tanzania.  Emelda (not her real name) will be working with Uzazi Village.   It is rare that I get to really have a heart to heart with a Black person who is not African-American.  Emelda came to the US for college, married an American and is raising her family here in the US.  She is on faculty at a local university.   I couldn't wait to ask her something I had long wondered.  What is it like to be raised in a place where Blackness is not vilified and demonized?   Where whiteness is not culturally centered?  Where standards of beauty are not eurocentric?  Where Blacks are not first seen as a problem to solve.  Where every cultural reference, however subtle and intricate sends a negative message about about who and what I am?  What would it be like to grow up free of the weight of those lies?  She answered simply, "I can't explain it, but every time I fly home, I feel as though when I step off the plane, I leave a burden behind me."
I have long been curious about the 'burden' that we as African-Americans shoulder.  A burden made more wearisome by the oft heard denial of systemic racism.  Now that I have started the conversation, I am insatiable to know more.  What would it be like not to have every sensory experience that comes to me, not filtered through a racially white lens?  A lens that reflects back only negativity about who and what I am.  Caucasians adamantly deny that they are taught from the crib to distrust and look down upon African-Americans, but the contempt is palpable in this country. 
I'm fresh off a weekend binge of African and African-American themed movies.  I love getting lost in a world where brown skin is the norm, and where I'm not forced to contend with the relentless elevation of all things White.  I long to experience what Emelda spoke of; a laying down of the psychic, soul-felt and weighty stigma of being brown in America.  There is no escape from it here, where being diminished is a constant way of life.  I must constantly do battle in my mind, not to believe what is relentlessly communicated in ways large and small.  I have to help my children do the same.  I must actively reject lies told about me in this culture- that I am bad, unworthy, unintelligent, less than in every way, nor accept the lies told about Whites, that they are good, worthy to be the focus of attention and elevation.  I have to fight back against the almost passive infiltration of my own  internalized oppression.  I have no history because in the schools of my country, my history is ignored while I am taught the history of the White man as Lord and Master of the Universe. I have no mother tongue, nor tribal affiliation. My values, my esthetics, even my linguistics are undermined. 
I have to wonder, who would I be, if I hadn't spent a lifetime listening to overt and subtle messages attesting to my inferiority? This culture is brutal to people of color, diminishing our own sense of self and human potential if we are not constantly rejecting the lie, that white makes right. 
Then for an encore we are told, we are imagining it all, by the very ones from who the smug superiority emanates.  I hope someday I find out, what its like to be Black without the baggage.