I am black.
But my blackness is invisible most of the time. I am an undercover black woman. I have to explain and claim my blackness over and over again. And have for my entire life. It’s exhausting but I want to be seen. To be known. To be understood.
Yes, privilege comes with my fair skin but it doesn’t mean my life is easy.
Let me tell you a story.
Imagine me, 15, in high school. A wild-haired, nerdy, boy-crazy teen girl. I had transferred to a small Catholic high school from public school. Many of my classmates had been in school together since kindergarten or at least from the first year of high school before I got there. The boys were all new and fresh and I developed a crush on one who was in most of my classes.
He was tall, with dark wavy hair and he looked a bit like a rock star. He wore his varsity jacket nearly every day. He had a “real” job. An adult job. Not an afterschool kid job. And he drove a cool car. I fell hard.
One day I mustered up the courage to talk to him. I intercepted him at his locker and engaged him in chit chat about our history homework. I stood near him as he as he transferred books to a backpack. While he stared into his locker I closed my eyes and drank in his smell – a mix of teen boy sweat, hormones and the distinctive scent of Polo Ralph Lauren cologne. I was intoxicated.
As we continued our banal yet thrilling discussion, he leaned closer and dropped his voice. My heart started beating faster. I was new to the school and knew that my crush had a crush on another girl but I was still new enough not to know how deep his crush was and how delusional I was.
So when he leaned in I was somehow convinced in that split second that he was going to kiss me. Delusional, remember? He did not. Instead, he said to me, “you know who I think started the civil war?”
He proceeded to answer his own question.
“It was the niggers.”
And in that moment my heart broke and I knew I was invisible.
This is why I need to tell you…
I am black.
This post is adapted from a stage show titled “Civil Wars” I developed in the Spring 2013 Solo Performance Workshop at Stage Werx Theatre in San Francisco, directed by the very awesome Martha Rynberg.