Editor’s Note: We’re republishing this piece from 2016 in light of the recent horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, and Tony McDade. We’ve chosen to run it without updating it to reflect the current realities of 2020 because it’s a stark reminder of another bloody and traumatic summer for Black Americans four years ago, right before a critical election. It is our hope that four years from now, we won’t have to keep being reminded that so very little has changed.
For more information on how you can do your part to stop systemic racism, here is a comprehensive list of organizations you can support: How To Help Fight For Racial Justice And Equality Right Now
By Kendra Austin
I was in second grade the first time the word “n*****” was used against me. I came home and found it tagged on my garage.
When I was in third grade, classmate Joey referred to me as a “gorilla” and some of my supposed friends called me an Oreo because I spoke proper English and made perfect grades. When I moved to a new school in sixth grade, my guidance counselor forced me to enroll in the standard courses rather than advanced because she “wasn’t confident I would do well.” My standardized test scores were in the 99th percentile and I was in the gifted and talented education programs my whole primary education.
Through the years, they questioned “how my hair did that” and why I didn’t only listen to rap. I wanted my hair to be stick straight like the pretty girls in the magazines and all of my friends. I wanted to belong. To be white. When I was in 10th grade, my classmate Aaron mentioned my race every single class period without fail. I didn’t want to be the angry black girl and respond, so I let him make jokes.
When I was in 11th grade, my classmate Michael told me at lunch he didn’t want a sip of my drink I offered him because I had already “n*****-lipped it”. None of my friends said anything. Enraged, I went back to class, finally took a stand and told my white student government adviser. She didn’t think it worthy of addressing.
When I was in 12th grade, my classmate Daria wrote an article in the school newspaper about how people who look like me didn’t deserve to be at colleges like the University of Texas (the university I just received my BA from) and we were handed admission solely due of the color of our skin and not merit. It was an “antiquated practice,” she said. I marched up to the newspaper advisor demanding an answer as to how such hatred could be published. She told me to calm down. UT has a black population of four percent.
When I was a sophomore in college, I was an RA for an off-campus dorm. I received a call every day from a concerned parent who didn’t want their poor, white kids to live with people of color or Jews and to make sure this didn’t happen. When I was a junior in college, my roommate subleased her room to a person named Ben. This person called me “n*****” in my own home in an argument about the humanity of the Confederate flag. His friends laughed.
138 black men were killed by police in 2016 (and we’re only halfway through the year) and every time I tell people I am saddened by the mistreatment of black people in this country, they tell me #AllLivesMatter. They tell me “you’re not working hard enough.” They tell me “slavery was so long ago, get over it. Racism doesn’t exist.” Apparently, my words aren’t convincing enough. My pain isn’t important enough.
Now, I mourn for those days when I was so naive. When I wanted to be white because I could have shiny, straight hair and fit into Limited Too. I don’t have that luxury anymore. Today, I might wish I were white so I won’t be questioned for congregating with other people of color. So I won’t be pulled over and shot for having a busted tail light. Today, I might wish I were white so I wouldn’t have to text my brother to make sure he’s still alive rather than to chitchat.
But I don’t wish to be white. I dare to be black. I dare to be a black woman in America and I DARE you to tell me that I am not pure, unadulterated magic. You may break our bodies but you cannot break our souls. We have experienced more pain than you could possibly imagine and gunshot wounds are not powerful enough to ruin us. I will no longer be silent so you can be comfortable, because your comfort is not worth the millions of toe tags placed on black bodies whose transgressions were merely being darker than you.
This is MY story and you can’t tell me it’s not so. You can’t tell me this is not America.
Kendra hails from northern Virginia and is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She is the liberal, opinionated feminist your mother warned you about. Her hobbies include eating, sleeping, and long walks to the nearest bar. While stalking the Kardashians on Instagram is a full-time job, Kendra manages to fill the role of make-up artist and self-proclaimed professional Netflixer as well. She is a passionate advocate for human rights and speaks/tweets for justice any chance she can. To contact her, follow the distant bumping of Drake’s hit album, Views.