My Skin, Myself

 I’m black. It’s an obvious thing. You look at me, and a black complexion looks back at you. Weirdly though, I sometimes forget I’m black. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t confuse my race for something else. I don’t walk across the Earth believing I’m Mexican or white or anything of the sort. Sometimes I just forget my race. My race simply settles in the back of my conscious awareness.

In the rare instances where I’ve experienced blatant racism, I’ve always felt deep shock. Shock because I can’t fathom how racism can live and flourish in people’s minds, and shock because I realize I’m black no matter how much I forget. 

So, it’s easy to say being black, for me, has never been central to my identity. 

If someone were to ask me “Who are you?”, I would respond precisely like this “I’m an 18 year old woman. I’m a runner. I’m a writer. I’m a blogger. I’m a longtime learner. I’m a vegetarian. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m a college student. I am me.” Just as disorganized as that answer is (I straight wrote it without pausing to think), I would answer that way. 

There’s no, “I’m an African-American woman.” Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be black, and truly, being able to say that has been a long time coming. Yet, there’s so many things about myself I would list off before I would say “I’m black.”

Some may think it’s a disgrace that I don’t hold my racial identity close to my heart. I don’t agree.

Being black comes with a lot. A lot of stereotypes, and personally for me, a lot of added roadblocks on the track to self-love. Keeping my racial identity at a distance has benefited me more than hurt me. It’s allowed me to avoid allowing my race to be the answer/reason for my successes and failures. 

There’s one memory that illustrates this for me: when I got accepted to the university of my dreams. The school day after I got my acceptance letter, I told all of my friends like any high schooler would, and the news spread like wildfire. By the end of the day, peers I’d never talked to were congratulating me. 

Then in my last class of the day, Japanese, a tall, lanky boy told me the main reason I was accepted was clearly because I’m black. That hurt. Before him, I never considered race as a factor in my college acceptance. I didn’t look at my race as something that made my individual circumstances better or worse. My race was just a part of me like the unibrow that rests above my dark brown eyes. I viewed and continue to view my life as being under my control not under the control of my skin.

But this boy undermined me completely, telling me my race was my ticket in. He was essentially telling that if college was the chocolate factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my milky-brown complexion was my golden ticket into the motherland. Not my stellar grades. Not my long list of extracurriculars. Not my personal essay that I poured my sweat and tears into. Not my teachers’ letter of recommendations, but my skin color.

I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe him at all, because at that point and at every point, I connect my successes with my character and my work ethic. I refuse to believe that my race was the number one reason I got accepted to my university. I also refuse to believe that my race is the number one reason why I was bullied when I was younger. Race isn’t the reason for my problems, and it’s also not the answer for my successes.

I’m an 18 year old woman. I’m a runner. I’m a writer. I’m a blogger. I’m a longtime learner. I’m a vegetarian. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m a college student. I am me, and me just happen to be black.

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