Years ago I used to be the guy that loved to say he saw no color. I did so even when feelings of resistance housed in my stomach called me from the inside and told me to reconsider. I silenced that voice back then but times have since changed. Now I boldly acknowledge that I do see color and ask anyone who doesn’t, “how could you not?”
Like many black boys and girls I know, how I was brought up was rooted in respectability politics. I was groomed not to be equal to whites but better than them. Not because they were white but because I was black. I had to see them even when they didn’t see me. I had to make myself less threatening, especially when I felt threatened by them. I had to lessen who I was just to speak to them knowing damn well, in many cases, even as the less colorful version of myself – I was still too much.
How I wore my clothes, the way that I spoke, what my bedtime was. The type of classes I took, which neighborhoods I was allowed to frequent, how late I was allowed to be out, all of those things were established based on what my mom and grandparents had learned in their lives about the perception white people had concerning black people.
There was this underlying lesson in every directive they gave that taught me always to be mindful that I was black and because of that, automatically seen as a problem. I had to be aware of that, so I could learn how to contract just enough to allow myself to fit in the tight space where white people could feel comfortable enough to tolerate me. And many of us have come to know that by us being tolerable we are then afforded opportunities.
That lesson mixed with a bit of luck has kept me safe, but it has also kept me on a leash.
I have, and I’m sure many black people can say they’ve done this too, mastered the art of interacting with white people in white ways. I have learned to do this with such ease that I have made myself uncomfortable with even the idea of expressing how who they are, and the stress of my relationship to/with them, makes me uncomfortable.
I have cut my hair, pulled my pants up, yessir’d, “I’m sorry officer.”, given out passes and made excuses for, lowered my voice, checked my tone, went high when they went low, overlooked overt and covert racism so much that I have made it okay for white people to not see themselves.
This is not okay.
Today I decided that as a black gay man not to be erased or diminished. To always speak up. To not accept racism in any form, and to not make excuses for those who display it. To affirm black people and our culture. To not stop showing up.
I have a responsibility to not just myself, but to every black person before me that died for the right to be seen. I have to honor that. There is a fullness in the totality of me that can’t be toned down just to be more palatable or accepted or seen. Not when I know that who I am and the ancestral legacy I come from is why the country I live in can attach itself to any form of greatness.
Also published on Medium.