To Be Black in America!
Oh what this means to me? You see its bigger than me. Being black in America is the struggle between defining your African roots and trying to identify with the spaces around you. Its the discussion of being from the African diaspora and coming to terms with the fact that you are so multi-facteted. Being black is hard to explain to someone on the outside looking in wondering why this life we live is so d*mn complex. Its fun. Its exciting. Its a breath of fresh air. Its knowing that the experiences you are living can be felt from across the city, across the state, across the country, across the world, from people who look like you who you have never met.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been in a state of utter black pride and adoration for who my black body represents. I’ve always had this superior feeling that being in this body constructed for greatness was a blessing, but now I can truly say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, MY BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL! As I anticipated the film Black Panther, which has now surpassed my wildest dreams, I am in awe of what this movie has done for me. To date, I have seen it three times in the theaters and I want to see it again. But for many people like myself, this movie is bigger than T’Challa or Killmonger or Okoye or Shuri, its the chance to be able to experience what our ancestors wildest dreams were. The dreams that they sacrificed their lives for to be in a constant battle of “my life matters, let me live“. The idea that there would be a movie on the big screen featuring actors that represent my black experience in a futuristic behavior, that understands, that to be black is 10 dimensional, that can have a conversation and relate to the struggle I feel everyday I wake up, that being black is me. I have watched countless interviews where the actors, and director has discussed working on such an important film like this and what it means, but my perception is different.
This movie is bigger than us. It will transcend generations and destroy the redundant and idiotic notion that we don’t have the capacity to the in those rooms and have these conversations about our black experience. However, the one thing that lingers on my mind is the fact that in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind, Hattie McDaniel, a very beautiful black actress, used her talents to be the first black entertainer to win an Oscar award. That in 1963, Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor. That in 1994, Angela Bassett was the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. That in 2001, Halle Berry was the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. While the existence of their blackness transcended and swiftly tore down barriers, history was being made, leaving and paving the way for directors like Ryan Coogler to even be “invited” into these rooms that weren’t created for us.
After seeing Black Panther for the third time, my family & I took a trip to the blackest place in America, the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture, my safe place. This was my 4th time there, yes 4th, I’m popping! This is where everything started to come full circle. I was surrounded by history, my history, in a beautiful building that was built by beautiful black hands, in a city that was built by other beautiful black hands (Washington DC). I walked through that museum with beaming pride in an understanding that to be black is to be prideful that you are a vision of someones wildest dreams. I saw the struggle and perseverance of my ancestors all around that black place. From serving in the war, to owning land, to film, tv, music, social justice, organizations, industries and careers, to living, we have fought for it all, literally. I saw faces that look like mine, in places that don’t look like ours. I walked with pride and dignity in knowing that my black was represented and I shared that all the people in that space. I felt at home.
Being raised in a predominantly African-American populated city such as Detroit certainly has it perks. I was surrounded by people that look like me in every space that I entered; my school, neighborhood grocery store, church, after school activities, and anywhere else I found myself, I felt like me. But understanding the black experience was merely on the level of the African-American experience that I knew. It wasn’t until I attended Howard University, the Mecca, in many different fashions, that I understood that being black is more than what i’ve always known it to be. On my freshman year dorm floor, I was exposed and introduced to what I now know to be a representation of the black diaspora. I engaged with ladies from Jamaica, New York, Washington State, Iowa, Detroit, Maryland, Philly, Boston, and many other places where I thought the black experience was universal. My new friends didn’t grow up listening to the same music I did, didn’t watch the same movies I did, didn’t eat the same food that I had, and didn’t share those “universal” thoughts of blackness. We each had a different upbringing that represented their households and personal backgrounds. The diaspora was living and breathing with me, sharing their thoughts, beliefs, values, and passions with me, and I was enthralled to be in the midst of it all.
You see, being black is not a general idea of what our historical knowledge has led us to believe. As William Earnest Henley stated in his poem Invictus:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul
We are a strong people, vigilant in our approach to create opportunities and pathways to success and hope for the next generation to come. We are the construction workers aiming to build what we can call our own Wakanda. We are the strong black mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, and aunties of children that will magnify our blackness. We are the actors, actresses, directors, and producers of our own cinematic experience. We are the students in unknown classrooms looking to find a place of our own. We are the masters of our fate. We are our ancestors wildest dream.
Beautiful, Strong, Resilient, Noble, Gracious, Fearless, Innovative
Descendants of warriors, kings, queens, rulers, and leaders
10 dimensional, multi-faceted
WE ARE BLACK!
And theres no clear explanation for that!