Black Renegade

Truth - How does it feel to be a problem? Activist, scholar, and writer W.E.B. Du Bois posed the rhetorical question that has both intrigued and confused a nation, namely the racially stratified federation better known as the United States. It's a question that has served as an explanation inherently of the duality of black consciousness and an existential to it. It's a hyperawareness of a mode of being and disregard at the same time. Du Bois' poignant quote gets at the implicit struggle of what it means to have a marginalized identity, specifically that of a person of color and even more so that of blackness. This is black renegade.

"To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."
W.E.B. Du Bois

Renegade - n. -  who deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles. How fitting a title to bestow upon oneself. How am I a renegade? Much like Du Bois this double consciousness - that is the necessity of a complicated life, a dual understanding, and most of all two souls occupying one body - presents a lifelong internal struggle. It's a perpetual debate as to whether I am furthering my cause ... that is the advancement of people who look like me or buying in to oppressive systems and interactions designed specifically to ensure my failure, invisible, and disenfranchisement in all realms of being. Blackness to me means having to not only intellectualize whiteness but to function in a society and cultures that were created with you as an afterthought of someone less than human. It's this mindset of knowing that my entire life experience, the ways in which I show up, and how I move through the world have been informed by the color of my skin. My blackness is intrinsically intertwined with my essence, my spirit, my soul. It is impossible to distinguish my humanity from it because it the thing that both demonstrates it best but also allows it to be denied so easily and so often.

To me blackness entails an automatic drafting into a war to prove that you are in fact a human being. Quite often that means striving to challenge, dismantle, and undermine institutional organizations of exclusion, risk your coveted "American-ness" that leaves you  an intruder in your own home, and demonstrate your (inherent) right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's knowing both your own reality as an unsolvable conundrum and an answer to as to how diversity, difference, and celebration look. It's being a master of espionage. It's figuring out when to blend in (even though you can't) and when to stand out. It's a balancing act of dastardly integration and assimilation with retaining your own uniqueness, culture, and reality. It's combatting stereotypes or embracing them with the caveat of their flaws being that they are always incomplete. It's community and knowing others like you and unlike most likely go through the same things. It's letting people know that you see them when others around do otherwise. It's realizing that you matter, that you have value, that you are irreplaceable, and that there is nothing wrong with you but rather the society we live in. In fact it's the knowledge that racism has nothing to do with you. It's calm and radical. It's respectable and unruly. It's pain and joy. It's hope, above all else - it's hope.

The past few weeks have seen so much go on with regards to the current state of race relations and continued instances of racism, racial profiling, and discrimination. From the Texas Pool party incident that saw an excessive use of force from police officers with children after racist remarks were made towards them, to the nonsensical extreme cultural appropriation and blackface of Rachel Dolezal, and most recently the white supremacist mass murder of 9 African-American church goers at their bible study in Charleston, South Carolina - it's absolutely terrifying. For me, multiple things come to mind starting with this notion that there is nothing is sacred, I am never safe, and that everything I do and say can/will be policed and not to my benefit. I've come to understand my existence as a threat to whiteness and the values, principles, and morality that have functioned since the inception of this "great nation."
No matter what I do, what I say, or how I act I am perceived to be dangerous. Do you know how hard it is to live your life knowing that you scare people and having that restrict you daily? Even when I am angry which I damn well have the right to be I notice people getting uncomfortable. I can never raise my voice. Whenever I am sad people don't know what to do or how to console me, and so they do nothing. Then there is the majority of the time where I go out of my way to smile, be friendly, look approachable and cater to other people and still have people ignoring me, walking away, or refusing to make eye contact. There's this constant thought in my head as to whether I'm ever actually being myself or just someone trying to avoid hurting other people's feelings, invalidating their arguably problematic notions, and minimizing the space I take up. What I struggle with is trying to rationalize why I spend so much trying to make other people (by that I mean white people) feel comfortable with me when I am made to feel like an outsider, intruding upon spaces where I don't belong, and perpetually on guard. I'm the one who is scared. I never have any idea who actually cares about me, who is my friend, and who I can trust. I live in this state of limbo where I contemplate how my black body moves through the world and at the same time how I'm just a regular human being.
I am so tired of crying, grieving, and feeling helpless. Everything is taken from me and people who look like me. Our joy, peace, safety, trust, spirituality, looks, culture, music, food, homes, family, love, life, and soul stripped until there's nothing left. The fact that I can be killed on suspicion of committing a crime, that I look menacing, or that I do not I'm convinced that America (that is white America because the rest of us are made to hyphenate and are not included in patriotic ideals or imagery) loves the idea of blackness, black culture, and its commodification more than the people who embody it. I look to the media and I'm nowhere to be found but there is all the bits and pieces of me being taken, packaged, and sold. Slang, clothing, physical features, ideas and all minus the actuality of me. But this all makes people so sad, and there's talk of hope, change, or not being grouped with everyone else.  Again, do not tell me how to feel, how to think, or how to be - it's done daily, and I'm over it. Individuality is a privilege I'm not afforded. But I share articles, videos, or quotes without any of my own commentary and you're supposed to interpret that as me doing the very least pretending to care - save it, I don't want to hear from Jon Stewart or other white voices that currently are overshadowing voices of color - I want to hear from YOU. But I didn't do anything - EXACTLY you didn't do a damn thing. Silence is complicity. What do YOU actually think? What are YOU going to do? What do YOU actually feel, if anything? My skin speaks for me all the time but so does yours and unless you speak your personal truth, it may not be saying something you like.

That pool situation, I've had people in my own neighborhood get out of the pool as soon I as stepped in it, clutch their children, and scurry away. I've gone to a country club and been asked to verify my identity because people who look like me are not allowed to attain certain levels of socioeconomic status (and if done so it must be illegitimately aka drugs or music). I've been stopped by the police, on my own college campus to check that I actually was enrolled there because me stopping to talk on the phone on a sidewalk was terrifying to other people. I've seen people adopt my natural characteristics, tan, bronze, plump, and fill to beautiful and yet the way I look is ugly, undesirable, and unwanted. I don't get to choose how people see me. I am always black. I am not masquerading. I cannot hide. That is who people see. Race is not a choice - being able to return to whiteness is. I've been questioned for praying for a meal or talking to God because my belief and spirituality as a black Christian is overwhelming. Even in the most sacred of places to me my mortality is in play. That's why I am a black renegade.

I've been through too much. I know too much. I am too much. On a certain level I take this disturbing challenge to get others to see my truth as a challenge that provides me with unparalleled strength, knowledge, and experience. What is worse than being killed for being you? What is exhaustion when you have jumped through extra hoops time and time again? What is intelligence when you access the ideals of multiple cultures, speak multiple languages, and can seamlessly navigate different worlds? Hardship does not exist for me - I can overcome it all, I get to daily - I have to daily. I have no other option. You may have limitations, but I don't. This black skin is the greatest gift I could have ever been given. It is my badge of pride, courage, and endurance. Now I see why I am scary. How can someone so hated love themselves so much - simple, no one else does so I do. I'm learning to embrace the terror I bring. Bring your worst! My spirit can never be broken, my light can never be dimmed, and my truth can never be disguised. This black renegade is hidden in plain sight, and he say boo. X


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