Recent happenings, particularly the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer has made me ponder over my blackness. I am grateful for all the support and the almost universal cry for things to be done differently and for black people to be treated better, but is it enough? Maybe things will really get better this time, maybe they will not because racism like roots are buried deep in a person.
But it’s a start.
The whole world is outraged and I understand the feeling. To put your knees on a man’s neck and ignore his pleas for breath until he breathes his last is hard to watch. What is even harder to comprehend is the message it reinforces. The message that to some, being black means being less than human. If you ask me, I think the officer that killed George, Derek Chauvin believes that every black person is not completely formed. In his mind, George had to be something between man and beast to be treated that way.
I am black and proud, but being black has caused us black people so much. Being black comes with fear. The fear that my kids could be physically attacked or passed on for an opportunity they are qualified for because of the colour of their skin. Being black comes with a responsibility, the responsibility to always look over my shoulder when I take walks around my neighbourhood. There is also the responsibility of having to work twice or maybe three times as hard, and to constantly prove myself, something a person whose skin is white may not have to do.
Being black comes with a burden. The burden of not knowing why that statement was made and if it was directed at me. It comes with the burden of deciphering if that sound someone makes at me was an animal sound or if that remark was racist because it referenced something associated with racism. Being black comes with the burden of not being able to say definitively that colour, the way I sound and the kinkiness of my hair had nothing to do with my not being accepted into a particular university. It comes with the burden of not being certain if my name has something to do with not getting a call back for that job when my resume and cover letter checked all the boxes.
Being black makes me look suspicious. Being black can sometimes mean I get a certain look when I touch an expensive item in a store or when I linger in a particular section for too long. Being black has made me normalize having an eye trailing me like I would slip something into my pocket when the salesperson in the store isn’t looking. It explains why I have to produce identification when others are let in with a smile and friendly chitchat. Being black has prepared me to be shown older and cheaper houses when I’m looking for a mortgage or to be referred to places where cheaper items are sold because of the invincible lines demarcating where a white person has access to and where a black person can go.
I am black, not inferior. I am black, not a criminal. I was born and raised in Nigeria and my English is good. I am educated, creative, industrious and resilient. I always bring something to the table.
Today, I add my voice to all the voices in the past and in the present that have spoken against racism, bigotry and hate. I lend my voice because I don’t want to be the target of a white or any other colour supremacist. I speak because I don’t want my children to be timid and afraid, to hide in the shadow because being visible is dangerous.
Remember that the pyramid of institutional and systemic racism was built and maintained by the amalgamation of sustained individual racist acts. This is why we have to stand against it and not stay silent. This is why we must move from profiling and hate to love respect and inclusion.
Being black, being African, being a person of colour living in Canada, these are my thoughts. These are my fears because at the end of the day only a person of colour knows what it feels like to be a person of colour.
Only a black person feels the burden of being black. Only a black person notices the blatant and sometimes subtle ways we are reminded of this. Nevertheless, we need allies. We need important voices and the voices of everyday people speaking up and actively taking steps to dismantle centuries of systemic racism.
This is what will bring about genuine and lasting change. This is my opinion.