If I had posted the question: "What does it mean to be Black in America?" two weeks ago, it would have had a decidedly different influence. Two weeks ago, the hot topic that had mainstream media buzzing (and Black folks rolling their eyes), was the scandal surrounding Rachel Dolezal; the head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, a white woman who had created an identity as a Black woman, and was living under such until being exposed by her family and subsequently by the media.
The discussions about race that surfaced on social and mainstream media were mainly fluff and under-informed points of view offered by non-blacks who didn't see any real issue in what she was doing. Of course not, why would they see any issues, when they don't have to live in our skin. There were comparisons made to Bruce Jenner's decision to transition to a female gender identity under the name Caitlyn, culminating in the creation of the term "transracial" which quickly began trending on social media. This is no surprise though. The Black experience is regularly leveraged and appropriated by other groups for their benefit. When a group wants a word that they deem offensive to be "off limits", the "go to" strategy is to say (insert term here) is the equivalent of the "N word". When a group wants to shed light on their struggle or difficulties, they'll compare it to Black people's civil rights struggles of the 60's, without a second thought.
Granted, in the case of Rachel Dolezal, she has done a lot of work for and on behalf of the black community. She's done a lot more "work", than a whole lot of people that were born Black, if we're being completely honest. But regardless of one's good work or activism in any arena, on behalf of any people....being caught perpetrating an epic deception tends to compromise one's credibility, and quite often one's future prospects. In Rachel Dolezal's situation, I give it a few more weeks, and this will be in America's rear view mirror, all but forgotten. No harm, no foul. All she did was pretend to be Black, and in case you've forgotten, white folks have been doing that since the early 1800's. Hell, the Spokane chapter of the NAACP was already giving her a pass, before all the facts were in, or should I say before all her lies were tabulated.
Whatever. Maybe I'd have had more to say about her specifically, two weeks ago, but the event of last week; the shooting in the Charleston, South Carolina church, colors the topical question once again to a to decidedly different tone. An all too familiar, deadly one.
What it means to be Black in America, is to have to carry the weight of centuries of hatred and prejudice, on your shoulders, every day, everywhere you go, and in almost everything you do. It means being guilty until proven innocent, always being suspect, and always fitting the description even when there isn't a description.
Being Black in America, means taking your life in your hands when you walk through a predominantly white neighborhood. It means taking your life in your hands when you walk through your own neighborhood, perhaps on your way back home from the store. It means being constantly perceived as a threat or a thug, whether you're an adult, a teenager, or even a 12 year old child playing alone in the park.
What does it mean to be Black in America? It means knowing that anything and everything about you, anything and everything that you hold dear, can be justifiably taken from you; your constitutional rights, your freedom, your ideas and inventions, your family, the sanctity of your home, or even the sacredness of your house of worship.
Being Black in America, means knowing that the concerns you will face, born out of the institutionalized racism in America, will fall most often on deaf ears. It means knowing that you will ALWAYS have to be on top of your game, or face the consequences, and that you will be held to a different standard than others, for better or for worse, in everything you do.
Being Black in America, means possessing extraordinary strength by necessity; mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. It means having to continually regroup and push forward in the face of unrelenting injustice, discrimination, and mistreatment. It means knowing that those that perpetrate the injustices against you, those that stand by silently and watch injustice being perpetuated, and those that seek to defend or minimize the injustice would not last a week in your shoes.
What does it mean to be Black in America? Ask me in another week or so, and I'll give you another answer.