It never fails. Each morning I wake up, I am reminded that I am Black. I look in the mirror and the reflection peering back at me is that of my own: light complexioned skin and nappy dreads. When I turn on the TV and watch the news, I am reminded that I am Black. A violent crime has been committed by or against a young black man or black woman. In some cases, that person may be the perpetrator and in some cases, the victim. Shot down senselessly by the people we are supposed to trust, the Po-Po, or that self-appointed citizen vigilante who has shot that black man, boy, woman, or girl who looked like he/she was reaching for a gun or knife. When in actuality, it was nothing. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Aiyana Jones. Yvette Smith. The list goes on and on.
As a little girl, I was reminded daily that I’m Black. Kids don’t see color. Racism is taught in the home. My mother worked at Belk Department Store for over 20 years. When it was still at the downtown location, my auntie would drive down to pick her up. We’d be parked out front and I would always hope we’d get there early enough so I could run across the street to Wilson’s Drug Store and get a strawberry ice cream cone! Back then, a scoop was like two scoops! As, I’m standing there waiting in line, I see a little white girl clinging to her mother’s dress and peeking around her mother at me. I’m sure I was in elementary school and that little girl looked to be no more than 4 or 5 years old. In any event, as I’m standing there waiting, she looks at me and says, “Look at that nigger.” She stated it very matter-of-factly and I was thinking to myself, “What is she talking about?” You see, I didn’t even know what a nigger was. I had not heard my mother use that word, but deep in my soul, I knew it was directed at me. It broke something in me. I never thought I was inferior to white people until that little girl said that to me. Her mother looked straight ahead and pretended not to hear what she said nor did she acknowledge me. I got my ice cream and walked back to the car. I told my auntie what happened. Back then, Black folks didn’t want no trouble, so the canned response was, “Don’t pay her no attention.” The truth was, I did pay her words attention and they did hurt. Don’t ever let anyone tell you words don’t hurt because they do and they stay with you for the rest of your life. Stop lying to yourselves and to your children. Be honest with them about life. Wouldn’t it be better to hear the truth from you than some hate-filled person in the streets?
When I get in my car to drive to work, I am reminded that I am Black. When I pull up beside a car, or it pulls up beside me, and it happens to be a police cruiser, I am reminded that I am Black. I sit there looking straight ahead, with both hands on the steering wheel and wondering if the officer is running my plates because I am Black. Recently, I was in Round Rock, Texas on Gattis School Road. I passed a vehicle because the driver was driving below the speed limit. Upon signaling and passing to the right, I then looked over my left shoulder and checked my side mirror so that I could move back into the left lane, as I needed to make a left turn at the upcoming traffic light. In doing so, the next thing I see are blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. I move off to the left shoulder of the road and a Round Rock Police Officer pulls up behind me. I stop my car and keep both my hands on the steering wheel. I let the window down and he says, “Ma’am, I’m Officer Hernandez. May I see your driver’s license? Do you know why I stopped you?” Of course I don’t know why, but I can’t even risk responding with a smart ass crack because he might yank me out of the car and proceed to do a beatdown. When I reply that I do not know why because I was certain I was not speeding. He said, “It’s because you cut that car off when you proceeded to move back into the left lane. The driver had to slam on her brakes. Are you in a hurry to get somewhere? Where are you heading?” Is he shitting me? Really? I am astonished. I say, while trying to remain calm because I’m not allowed to be angry with the police or question them, “Officer, I am a very cautious driver and I looked to see if I had room to move over. That driver had been constantly pumping her brakes, for no reason, when I was riding behind her. So, I passed her.” It was then that I knew he was not on my side; that I had no side; that because I was Black I was not going to “win” this position. I just shut my mouth and let him say whatever he needed to. I guess I tuned out. He finally said, “Ms. Hall, I’m not going to give you a ticket today. I’m only going to issue you a verbal warning. Just be mindful of how you’re passing.” Really? Is he shitting me? He didn’t have anything better to do and because Round Rock is notorious for profiling Blacks, he chose me since the driver of the other car was a white woman. I am always subjected to the carelessness of other drivers: cutting me off, pulling out in front of me, not giving turn signals, etc. I could go on, but guess what? Where are the cops when I need them to right my wrong? Nowhere to be seen! Officer Hernandez obviously needed to usurp his power on that day. I am reminded that I am Black. Thanks for that Officer Hernandez, my fellow minority member of society.
Before I walk into a retail establishment, I am reminded that I am Black. I have to make sure that my hands are not in my pockets and that I have everything I will need out of my purse. My phone. My shopping list. My debit card or cash in my hand so they can see I am intending to make a purchase. I am reminded as the eyes of the white associates fall on me. I have become profiled because of the color of my skin. I want to make sure they see me when I walk in and I try to stay in their view. I am certainly no thief, and Black people aren’t the only people who steal. I recently worked in one of the nation’s largest home improvement stores as a cashier. Guess what? In my eight months there, I only witnessed one Black man stealing an expensive drill and one Black woman attempting to run a con on the store at self checkout, where I happened to be stationed that day. All the other scams were committed by white men and women. Heck, one guy was so bold that he printed up his own product label with UPC code. When it was scanned, the item price rang up as $299 when it was actually $699. Then this other group of white shoppers, were piling all this shit in their basket. They had been in the store for a couple of hours. Now let me tell you that home improvement shopping is to me what Neiman Marcus is to other women. I can stay in there for hours. The thing is that I knew this group (two trashy woman and one trashy man) were together even though they were shopping separately. My intuition spoke and I listened. You see, if a woman is in a home improvement store, she is there on a mission. These people were randomly throwing expensive shit in their basket. When it came time to checkout, I offered to scan the merchandise for them with my trusty little scanner at self-checkout. The female began to act all surprised regarding the prices of the items. I asked her if she still wanted it and she said no. So without letting her handle the merchandise, I moved it out of her reach. Needless to say, this went on for about 15 minutes until finally, my head cashier took her to another register. Still running the same scam, the head cashier was finally able to total out the purchase. It ended up being about $300 and that heffa only had $28 in her pocket. WTF! BUT they were white. Of course white people don’t do anything underhanded. NOT! All people have the potential to do so. Never overestimate someone because of the color of their skin.
I am a professional Black woman with an undergraduate degree in business administration and a master’s degree in library science, but I am reminded daily that I am Black. I have been a librarian for 21 years working in public, university, special and school libraries. It never fails that someone will ask the ridiculous question, “Is there anyone here who can help me?” I look around, bewildered, as if to see who they are looking for. Without giving them my “stupid” look, my canned response is, “This is a library reference desk. Anyone at this desk is professionally trained to help you AND has a master’s degree in library science. Please don’t ask that question again. Now, how may I help you?” They look all stupefied and are left speechless. Insulted, perhaps, but no more insulted than I am. I guess to them, the position looks too “complicated” for a Black person. Maybe I don’t look smart enough or sound smart enough. I know I’m Black, but I don’t speak slang. It doesn’t even sound right coming out of my mouth. You see, I grew up in a single parent home with only a mother. My mother didn’t speak slang and she really didn’t allow us to. We spoke English in our home, and so do a lot of other Black families/homes. I am quite intelligent and never dumb down my conversations for anyone, regardless of how intimidated he/she may feel. However, when I was in high school, I didn’t know that it was okay to be smart and embrace it. I was very shy and usually in the classes I took, I was the only Black. There may have been one or two others in there, but they didn’t really talk to me. It wasn’t until I went to library school that I realized it was okay to be smart; to walk into that; to embrace it. I loved knowledge! I still do and I refuse to let anyone challenge me in such a way that they are trying to use their knowledge to make me feel stupid or inferior. That would be me giving you too much power and you do not have that kind of power over me.
Whenever someone mentions that they have a great relationship with their father, I am reminded that I am Black. You may be saying this is not applicable to only Blacks but for me, I always wrestled with (and still do) those feelings. You see, I have Black friends whose fathers were very present. I always felt unloved and unwanted by mine. It’s hard to even refer to him as “my dad” or “my father.” You see, God is the only Father I’ve ever known. This is in no way an opportunity to bash the person who contributed to my being. It’s just merely my truth. In fact, there seems to be an epidemic of absentee fathers in our homes and in the lives of our children. Once I was talking to my mother about my feelings and she said she never knew how much that hurt me. I guess she thought her provision and love were…should have been enough. For a girl, that image of that father shapes how she sees all men in her life, constantly looking for that provider; that rescuer; that protector. Even in my deepest relational hurts, the contributor didn’t do that for me. The most important relationship a girl will have with a man is the one she has with her father. How he loves her and chooses to be a part of her life will forever affect her beliefs about love, men, and herself. For a long time, I didn’t even believe Black men could love. I think all of us just do the best we can with what we have. All of us are a little bit damaged and a little bit jaded. After many years of pursuing a relationship with my contributor, I have come to the conclusion that it is a dead-end. For many years, I wrestled with buying Father’s Day cards and birthday cards. I would stand in front of the greeting cards, toiling over the right card. I could not buy a card that said, “dad” or “father” or “daddy.” I didn’t know who that person was. So, it was easier to purchase a light-hearted funny card. It was safer. Then once I decided I was over my “daddy’s little girl issues” (You do know you never get over them, right?), I stopped chasing him. I was done. I was over it. He’s never worked to know me, and I’m just over the pursuit.
When I strongly disagree with a co-worker (who happens to be a white woman), I am reminded again that I am Black. When I reprimand an employee (who happens to be white) because she undermined my authority and I call her on it, I am reminded that I am Black. I am labeled the “angry Black woman” because I don’t have time to deal with her passive-aggressive bullshit and insecurities because I might just know a little more than YOU do, but YOU are determined to prove me wrong and make me look bad, while shutting down the lines of communication with me. Sneaky. Underhanded. Devil. If I look at you like what you said is absolutely crazy, then I’m intimidating you? Well, guess what? That’s your shit….not mine! I will not own it nor will I stop being who I am. Is this all white women? No! I know great women who are very secure with themselves. I tend to find this with women who have no control over their personal lives or they have relational issues with their spouses and children. Sometimes I look at women I work with and can only imagine what they’re like at home. D I F F I C U L T! Better yet, C R A Z Y! Well, I have enough crazy of my own, I won’t be taking on yours, too!
On April 18, 2015, I made the BIG CHOP! I decided to separate myself from my dreadlocks after a seven-year relationship. I am reminded daily, that I am Black. I know the white folks are looking at the loss of dreads and gain of an afro…wondering if I’m going to be the “angry Black woman” with militant and radical ideas and voice. Or will I be the “toned down” Black woman (if there is such a being) who will keep the peace at all cost to herself and her very existence. Why can’t I just be who I am and not my hair? How come my hair just can’t be an expression of who I am becoming? Why can’t my hair just be about me looking cute? It is their issue not mine. They equate my hair to my personality. If it has a look of wildness on a particular day, then my attitude for the day can be misconstrued as “wild” and “aggressive. I love it when white women declare that I am aggressive simply because I have a voice and I choose not to hide what I am thinking and feeling. I don’t want to communicate in any other way than I have. I don’t want to be less of a threat to you because I sugar-coated my words to make you feel less intimidated. The truth of the matter is I AM a threat to you! I am an intellectual, spiritual and emotional threat to you and all your insecurities. I’m sick of working with the white woman who hides behind a power she doesn’t even have while all along trying to slap a bridle on me and get me to bow down to her way of life. I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I didn’t stutter nor did I hesitate. I said it and I meant it.
When I get passed up for that job promotion, I am reminded that I am Black. I know fully well that I have the experience and the qualifications for the job, but because my skin isn’t light enough and my afro is a little too ethnic, I’m reminded, but wait! The human resources department hasn’t met me so they don’t know what I look like, but because I believe in Affirmative Action, I complete the AA questionnaire. Does this tip them off? Maybe. Maybe not. The competition comes to me for help with her presentation for her interview for the job I applied for, but she needs help because she’s never had to do an interview like this and her only experience for a director position is elementary school. Never mind that I’ve been a librarian 21 years and have worked in academic, public, special and school libraries. Unfortunately, Dr. King, the day has not arrived in which we “are not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.” I’m not light enough and just a little too ethnic looking. Another reminder that I am Black.
When I want to have a conversation about the injustices and plight of Black people, I have to discuss it in hushed whispers so my white counterparts don’t think we’re “plotting” against them, to “overthrow” the government, the schools, our jobs. When the truth is I just want to be able to express my “blackness” in a way that doesn’t offend or threaten you. When two or three Blacks are gathered, we must disperse because the suspicious gazes fall upon us. “Watch those niggers! They’re up to no good!” What about the white niggers or the Hispanic niggers or the Asian niggers or other ethnic niggers?
EVERY DAY! I am reminded. I. Am. Black.