Something happened within my life’s transition of going to West Africa and coming back home, especially during the time that I did. Since college, and then Peace Corps, and now here. I’ve delved and drowned, resurfaced to drown again, in my identity
as a person of black descent,
as an ambiguously light black woman,
as a person of indigenous blood,
and now, my identity as myself.
There was a time in Peace Corps we held a discussion among volunteers about race (as we always did.) I remember a girl from Nepal saying that we put too much emphasis on how we identify, too much emphasis on boxes. I recall another girl and myself passionately retorting it’s easy to say that when you aren’t forced to be constantly reminded of your identity by the outside world. Like it is for black people. Or women. Or gay people.
I remember a time not too long ago where social justice was the most important to me, especially for black people. As a person who came from black people, who was raised by black people, and who experienced life initially by the unprocessed trauma that resides in our blood and bones, I felt and still feel almost a devotion to the liberation of all black and indigenous people.
But returning home after 2 years in the peaceful country of the Gambia, where everyone was family and everyone knew each other, and community and culture were still alive and trying to thrive, it was very difficult to come home and re-experience the overwhelmingly angry, violent and divided community of black people there.
Well for one, I came during the start of the pandemic, where everyone was trapped home for the first time ever in our lifetimes, and where social media more than ever before controlled the culture. Then cue George Floyd, and the informal education of all people (black, white, Asian, Arab, mixed) on the realities of the black experience in America, and even more specifically, the erasure of darker skinned black women +trans. The trend, as it so seemed, was to stand in solidarity for black rights. People that never understood the argument before, finally were conceding that “They’ll never understand but they still stand in solidarity.” Now if this was actually socio-cultural progress or simply the influence of herd-like group think, either way we were entering a period we’ve put off for far too long, entering uncharted waters.
What I did not expect, though, was the wisdom that would come from this experience, something that not too long ago I dismissed as “All Lives Matter” psycho spiritual bypassing. It happened at a night protest in Brooklyn, which was the dumbest, half-baked idea I ever had. But I excuse myself, coming fresh from a peaceful 2 years abroad where people were facing real poverty and survival and still somehow happy, I might have still been riding that wave of gratitude, peace, and love.
I went with my younger brother and sister, the latter who is a darker toned black woman in her first year working in a New York charter school. Fresh off experiencing systemic racism and disenfranchisement from the inside perspective, and angry ass hell at that. Although I did expect anger and passionate emotions, I can say I underestimated greatly how strong this energy would feel to me, and also overestimated how strongly I would feel in this environment as well. As soon as we were there, I saw people throwing glass bottles, aiming at cops but at times hitting other parts of the civilian crowd. The police rushing in groups to take down target individuals of people they believe to be inciting the emotions and behaviours. People insulting and directing anger towards the police, and the police themselves spewing back angry, hurtful words. My sister releasing all the anger she held inside from dealing with passive white colleagues that really didn’t identify nor care about the experiences of their black and brown children, as long as they were getting that paycheck and treated with authority.
I was paralyzed to be back in that environment, and shocked at myself at how paralyzed I felt. Shocked at how impacted I felt, and scared to be there, but also at the fact that this energetic vibration used to be a norm for me. That I used to live and feel at home at this vibration of anger, pain, hate and violence.
And now I didn’t.
It was what allowed me to see what was going on around me through a lens I never had before. The real trigger was when I saw my younger sister stand in the way as cops armored up and locked up to clear the streets. I don’t know what her intentions were, I don’t know if even she is aware of what her intentions were. All I saw was her small, black ass standing, shouting it’s her right to just stand in the street with an army of NYPD officers focused on the sole mission of clearing the street and anyone who was standing in the way of that. The police officers began pushing us to move out the way, and I grabbed that girl so damn fast! I was so angry! Because where SHE saw a perfect opportunity to exercise her rights, I saw her just a few seconds away from being body slammed by multiple officers, or worse, entering a situation that could end up with her blood smeared on the concrete along with her lifeless body.
And that’s when it became real to me.
That if she was finished right there, she would have finished her life, fighting for an illusion. An illusion of living free, of being “freed”, and an illusion of a full life. She would have ended her life there, never having really seen and been in the world, just studied and read about it. Never having really come into her own unique, individual purpose, only having done what she thought she was supposed to do. She would have become a lifeless name people chanted for a few hours in anger, and then went home and didn’t talk about again in love or light, just anger and vengeance. And I couldn’t imagine that ever being worth it.
Needless to say, I wrestled a lot within myself having these thoughts. I felt like a traitor, like maybe I was coming from a place of my light-skinned/ambiguous privilege. Maybe I could also never truly understand? I dug deep and it hurt a lot, to re-examine my identity, the very thing that seemed to drive so much of my purpose and character.
If I’d never gone to Africa…actually, if I never lived there. If I never created deep meaningful relationships with people there that live every day in the closest reality to poverty, real poverty that I have ever seen, I would have arrived to a different conclusion. If I never allowed myself to be so damn humbled, humbled OUT of my perceived unprivileged upbringing.
I know myself and my positioning so much more deeply in this life because of it. As a real afro-indigenous blood being. As a liberated natural being, I remembered that no one can free me the way I can free myself. No one can validate me and my intrinsic value the way I can, or the way my relationship with Nature and the world around me can. Natural people know this, and that’s why some of the enslaved chose death before enslavement. Because a natural person in communion with Truth, with Nature knows, not just intellectually but experientially, that “death” itself is just a box. And that box doesn’t exist,
unless you believe it does.
I learned that boxes are made by man, black or white, and enforced by white Eurocentric culture. The culture that “taught us” that reading and writing were irrefutable facets of intellect, and so we must put extreme emphasis on these two things, and these two things alone. I realized that attaching to “blackness” itself is also a box. And as angrily justified as we may feel about our box, at the end of the day it still does what boxes do,
and that’s contain. Limit. Suppress and restrict.
I had a conversation recently with Ebrima about who the “Original people” were, and if they were black or white. He kept saying that no one can know that, while I kept telling him that they were black and that could be backed by a lot of scientific research. Even though I was making a lot of sound points, he just kept focusing on the fact that it doesn’t matter if they were black even if they were. Emotionally (and it’s important to make that distinction) I couldn’t understand why he didn’t care if they were black, and was kind of annoyed, but as he continue to expand on his point, I started to see.
He touched a lot on this new found black power era we are entering in, and how we were dangerously treading the same power hungry narrative whites have so long dominated. He said that as much pride as he has in being a real black man from Africa, he knows at the end of the day he is no more powerful or any less human as the next man, black or white.
I found myself feeling this during my time in the U.S. I loved to see black people, especially women, entering a long awaited space of empowerment, support, and confidence, and yet, I couldn’t help but notice the spaces where this was all merely façade and gimmick almost. How black women were collectively looking to write a new narrative for them, but the ingenious, groupthink that seeped through this experience did exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do.
Instead of breaking out of the box, we moved into our own box and felt proud for it.
The amount of times I heard the same rhetoric uttered verbatim from different mouths was proof to me. People were even more convicted to stand in solidarity, and solidarity meant that you could not utter an opinion or experience different from the collective narrative we were building together. Even black men, though rightfully held accountable for the violent apathy they so long held towards the experiences of their beloved sisters, were convicted and tried should they utter any individual inner thoughts that strayed from the narrative we were collectively focusing on (cue J. Cole’s Snow on the Bluff).
I realize when you enter deeply into your process of individuation that everyone must go through what they go through, when they go through it. I keep my thoughts to myself a lot. But I’ve settled I will not continue to self-invalidate my own experience because of fear of feeling that I may be invalidating the experience of another, especially not my sisters. Because all experiences are unique in their essence, and the existence of one does not inherently invalidate the other. The two exist, at the same time in the same Truth.