It’s a hell of a time to be alive. It’s even more of a wild ride being a person of color in the United States right now. Add to that being female, Bi, an explorer of ancestral spiritual practices and a child of immigrants, and…well.
I was born and raised in North Dakota to Caribbean parents, one of whom joined the airforce not long after arriving in the US, hence our initial presence in the tundra. My parents have long held that it was the people in North Dakota that made them want to stay. For me, though, it was the people there that made me want to leave. Not everyone, of course, but, a large enough amount. More on that later.
I often lead with North Dakota when introducing myself anywhere as a sort of disclaimer. Especially when I’m engaging with other Black Americans. It’s almost as if I’m telling them “I’m so sorry I’m like this, please don’t blame me for my accent, general mannerisms and/or cultural ignorance, I was raised by Polar Bears.” This compulsion developed over decades of me slowly discovering, in awkward classroom and church interactions, through family trips and educational internships, that I lived in this strange sort of “in between” world. White people were equal parts disconcerted and drawn to curiosity by me in my home state; I grew up accustomed to being stared at while biking down the street, or having total strangers drill me about my family history in line at the supermarket. But none of this held any sort of meaning. No one there wanted to get to know me, really. I was just visually different and they just wanted to ascertain my purpose there. Meanwhile, Black people didn’t seem to know what to make of me either. Greetings that should have been pretty straightforward would flop the minute I opened my mouth or blinked in awkward silence after missing a cultural cue or reference. I was visually categorized as “one of them,” yet I was raised so far from Black America and all the culture that is constantly being cultivated and disseminated by them in real time that I wasn’t, really. My Blackness was a time capsule from the Caribbean island my parents left in the late 70s and then buried in snow thousands of miles away. I got used to being written off by people who looked like me.
As a matter of fact, “used to being written off” sort of describes how I’ve come to view a lot of my life into adulthood. I teach and conduct research in a field right now (Music Therapy) that is generally misunderstood by a lot of people, particularly STEM scientists, but also by many in the Arts community too. And being a woman in academia (or any workplace, really) brings with it its own degree of “ain’t nobody listening to you”ness as well. I’ve found that, in becoming accustomed to expecting people to write me off, that I frequently oscillate between one of two states: either I’ll push into hyperdrive trying to make myself impossible for the establishment to ignore, or (when hyperdrive ultimately fails and I exhaust myself) I’ll cocoon into my couch, doing nothing and bothering no one.
Back to North Dakota. That state drove me into hyperdrive on the regular. I think it did that to my whole family and countless other minorities in the area, to be honest. But where, for some, having people default to assuming you have no value to them is a blessing that allows one to live life in their own way at their own pace in relative peace and quiet (as it was for my parents) I felt like I was constantly having to prove something to everyone: that I was knowledgable, useful, worthy of caring about. Some people got that memo, and some didn’t. That’s life, right? But I just couldn’t deal with it. Not there, at least.
Now, living away from my home state, I still find myself struggling with this issue, but in different ways. I live in a more predominantly Black community now, but settling into an environment where you look like the majority of people around you but don’t actually know that much about the culture is… jarring, to say the least. I see the confused disappointment when people crack a joke that I don’t understand (sometimes literally, as I get lost in the AAVE dialect) and I think “I really don’t belong anywhere, do I?”
I suppose now’s as good a time as any to note that this is not my first foray into blogging. I’ve had a blog for my Music Therapy self, a blog for my Community Organizer/Activist self, a blog for my Queer Spiritualist self. But rarely have I allowed any of these identities to intersect in any sort of public way. Until now.
I’m learning I’m not the only Black American to struggle with this. As I get to know more Black women in Academia, the Arts, and in other social or spiritual communities in which I find myself, online and off, there are many of us who live in this sort of “in between” state. Striving to make something of ourselves in a world that tells us we have to leave our identities at the door, all the while longing for the intense power of community that shared identities can bring. And I’m kinda over the exhaustion of constantly trying to prove my worth in various circles. At the end of the day, I’m just me. And I should be able to be that person, unapologetically and publicly, without fear of diminishing my worth to anyone.
So here’s to me starting yet another blog, but hopefully one that will allow me to explore all the avenues of myself in their fullest, most vibrant, and visible form: the Black, female, queer, spiritualist, 1st generation born American me. Unapologetically. Exhaling sincerity as I go.