I’m guessing the first thought you have from this title is, what the hell does that mean? If that is your thought than you have a lot to learn about black experiences because this is an experience, we all go through at some point. I know for a fact that I am not the only one! Let’s shed some clarity on that…
As a younger child, I grew up on the lovely island of Haiti which of course is predominantly black. Growing up around people who looked like me, being black was never a topic that crossed my mind. However, growing up on the island colorism was a big factor. I don’t recall specific experiences that I went through as a young girl but as I got older and started having these deep conversations with my parents, I realized how much of an issue this truly is in Haiti. But what I do vividly remember is my mother teaching me and instilling in me that my skin tone does not make me any less than anyone else. Living somewhere that your skin tone dictated your beauty, your intelligence, your financial standing, and so on, I did not question anything within myself due to a strong black woman teaching me that your skin tone is not what defines you. Other than being educated on the issue of colorism, I was still truly not aware of my blackness as a little girl.
Later on in life during my pre-teens, I moved from Haiti to Florida. The area I moved to was also predominantly black! Now I am trying to think years back to what experiences I had as a little girl. When I think of my time in Florida, I can say that I was still not aware of my blackness. What I was aware of during that time was that I spoke multiple languages, not many people around me had that ability and to everyone, the fact that I was Haitian and could speak multiple languages was my “cool” factor. So up to my pre-teen years, I was still living in a bubble, unaware of what it meant to be black.
As a teenager, I moved from Florida to Massachusetts. Once I arrived in Mass, I attended a very diverse high school. There were lots of other students that looked like me and teachers that looked like me so once more my blackness was never at the forefront of any conversation. Nor did I feel like my blackness was something I was supposed to be aware of. What I did learn and experience during high school is that there were very specific mindsets on what people should look like, sound like, experience, etc. Attending high school in Massachusetts I quickly learned that here people did not think Haitian’s were as cool as they did in Florida. I received comments along the lines of, “You’re pretty for a Haitian girl”, “You’re Haitian? What are you mixed with?”, “How is your hair like that if your Haitian” and so on. Another big line that was always thrown my way was, “You’re such an oreo” due to how I spoke. I could go on and on and on about the things I was told throughout high school that now being more educated I realize how minimizing those statements were.
So, for another 4 years of my life, I had yet to learn and be aware of my blackness. Of course, this does not mean that I did not know I was black. Clearly, I have been around many different people, so I knew that I was black, but I was not aware of my “blackness”. Meaning I was not aware of what it meant to be black. Physically I liked myself, I grew up in a household that embedded into me that my physical appearance is to not be questioned. I also vividly recall being told 100000 times as I grew up, “You’re a beautiful girl. But there’s nothing worse than an unintelligent beautiful girl. Focus on your intelligence, you’ve already received beauty. Because you will have to work twice as hard to achieve the same steps as your counterparts.” How many of you had that talk? Well let me share, I did not take that lightly. This girl made sure to ask questions, speak up, learn, read, and increase my intelligence anytime possible. And I do so till this day! Because till this day, we have to work twice as hard to achieve the same steps as our counterparts.
From these life experiences, I took all of my knowledge, passion, and life expectations and headed off to college. No questions asked, no specific research done about diversity, the one thing that I focused on was, what college has a program geared towards what I want to learn? I found it, applied, got in, attended. Before starting this new experience, what was shared with me by family members was, “Beware that from this point on and as you continue to work on your career, the less black people that you will see and meet.” This was shared with me in a sense to save me from culture shock I would say. Well as I kicked off my college career, I quickly discovered the lack of people that looked like me. As I started working throughout college, again I started noticing the lack of people that looked like me. Over time, as I started experiencing more and more in college, BOOM, I started being more and more aware of my blackness. So yes, I have been black for 24 years now, but I have only been aware of it for about the past 7 years. I don’t know if that makes me gullible or naïve or if I lived under a rock, but it was not until college did I start truly learning about my blackness.
My experiences in college enlightened me on this matter because as I stepped in a classroom it would be shocking if there were 3 black students. When topics came up that involved black culture or black history, I would single-handedly be picked out to chime in. When discussions came up, I would be the one professors ask if this is the right term or if this is offensive or not. My blackness became more apparent because “Your lips are so full”, “Can I touch your hair”, “You can’t wear a pencil skirt to work, your butt looks too big in it” or this quote that I will never forget I received from a random kid in the cafeteria “You’re new here! I’d know, you guys stick out like polka dots on this campus”. I must say, I’m very happy about the eye-opening experiences I went through during those 4 years of college.
The good thing about discovering my blackness is that I started seeing the world for what it truly was. My eyes opened up to what it truly meant to be black in America. It allowed me to learn and educate myself more on these matters. It has led to strong conversations within my family. It has made me realize the lack of education in others. Discovering my blackness, even though later than some, was an experience that prepped me for anything else to come as I continue to grow and evolve.
Frankly, I have been black for 24 years, but I’ve only been aware of it for 7. My blackness is not a burden, it’s a power. This young black woman is beautiful, strong, opinionated, educated, and just getting started. I know many of us have been through uncomfortable and tough situations but that’s what makes us so resilient!
I’d love to hear your stories. Share with me and let’s chat, when did you discover your blackness?
Bisous, Bisous Eisha