In a time of racial tension in the USA and around the world, when I get into conversations about race and discrimination well-meaning friends and acquaintances will often say to me – “Jen, when I see you, I don’t see color. When I see you I just see you and love you for who you are” When I hear that, I get it. I understand. They are trying to be inclusive and they’re trying to say that they love me the person – my spirit, my mind – and they don’t care about the physical appearance. So I am thankful because I know their intention. But let me be clear, when someone says that they only see me and they do not see color, they are squashing that piece of me that ultimately makes me who I am. They are not actually seeing me.
Being a black woman means that I have the unique issues, challenges and gifts every woman has in addition to this whole other world of being visibly different from the majority that live in my world.
As a child, I felt like I fit nowhere. I was rambunctious and mouthy – full of energy and really, really smart. Due to my vivacious personality, I did not fit in with my well-mannered black girl friends and I always felt like I did not quite fit in with my white girl friends. And so, I lived in my own world. Luckily, I had parents who always told me that I was beautiful, smart and could do anything with my life if I worked hard and studied hard. They taught me the art of discipline and focus. As a result, these characteristics made me a strong woman.
As a black girl growing up in a place where I was often the only visible minority in my class and 1 of 4 in my school of 200+ – when images of black people came up on the screen on movie day I felt like all eyes were on me. When we discussed issues pertaining to the black community in history, like slavery, it felt like all eyes were on me. And when black people were treated unfairly in the world, like when Rodney King was beaten in the streets by police, it felt like all eyes were on me. It’s a feeling that really cannot be described by any one word.
I’ve never been militant. I’ve never marched anywhere, but I have always known that being black is part of my identity. It makes me empathetic to unfair treatment. It makes me understand the person who feels left out or like they do not fit in. It makes me understand the importance of having pride for where you come from and the unique cultural practices that comes with that. It makes me understand the youth whose parents don’t get what it’s like to grow up in a multicultural community because they grew up back home. It also allows me to understand the fears of parents raising their kids in a multi-cultural community because they grew up in a community where the village literally raised the child.
I get what it’s like to be different and have to navigate teenage years not looking like everyone else. BUT this is my experience as a black girl and as a black woman. Not everyone’s experience is the same. So, I’m not simply a woman. You cannot know me and not understand that my blackness, my black experience makes me who I am. It has shaped me.
So when you see me, if you say you do not see color you are essentially saying you do not see – me.
NEVER be afraid to speak your truth or share what’s in your heart. Be respectful, be authentic and come from a place or love. You got this.
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