Tuesday, March 25, 2014

30x30: On Being Black

I've written before about my cultural identity and legacy - 

about honoring the struggle and sacrifices of the generations that came before mine; about how I'm only here, free and happy, doing what I'm doing because of what they did; about making good on my own life so their fight won't have been in vain.

I've been thinking a lot about their fight.

The first generation of black people in America fought simply to survive.
Many subsequent generations fought for freedom. After that, the fight was for equal rights. And today? What is the fight today? How close are we to the place towards which the runaways fled, which the migrants of The Great Migration sought, towards which the marchers marched?

I spent a long time feeling estranged from my cultural identity. In my school days, ignorant peers made sure I knew that I was never black "enough," and it has only been within the last decade that I've come to understand and love all the ways in which my blackness is true and shapes who I am.

From this vantage point, I can see the new battles more clearly. They are subtler battles now.

There is the fight against a system of privilege that is biased against the non-white and the non-wealthy.

There is the fight to not be perceived as a probable fuck-up or likely threat when wearing a hoodie or listening to hip hop.

There is the fight to be perceived as not all the same - as individuals in a diverse group.

There is the fight to be included in a wider perception of beauty.

These new battles are tricky. Amid the entitled tears of Abigail Fischer and cries of bullshit reverse racism, these battles require sensitivity, conviction, precision, patience, and allies. It is a new frontier, one that's easy to shrink from, but we shouldn't. We should continue, too, towards that place were the runaways, migrants, and marchers wore a path.

And along the way, we have to pick up the mantle and advocate the causes of the "other": of the immigrants, of the disabled, of the mentally ill, of the gay, trans, and queer, of the working poor. Back in the day, King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I cannot ask for my place at the table, and keep another from her own. Today, my identity, my blackness, is as much about joining hands with those beside me as it is about pride I feel in the hope and fortitude of my ancestry.

It is both of things things together. It is taking hands and climbing.

Original illustration by Isabella Rotman

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