Ninety years ago novelist and journalist Zora Neale Hurston authored How It Feels to be A Colored Me. Its contents speak to Hurston’s experience, a experience that marks a universal plight to exist as black within the paradigms of anti-blackness.
Written in 1928 “colored” accurately referenced the black body. In 2018, it does not. The term is inclusive to those who are also “of color” (when convenient). This post speaks to the black experience, and delineates how it feels to be a black “me.”
Finally, the word “I” (or me) as it appears in this post does not reference “me” specifically. Rather, this post attempts to cast a gaze on individual experience to delineate a collective plight.
How it feels to be a Colored (Black) Me
When I first started college I took the 70 bus down Georgia Avenue in Washington DC with my roommate. There was a man on the back of the bus that watched us as we spoke. Our excitement to be on the bus roused him, and I suppose our New York accents betrayed our status as recent arrivals. When we stopped speaking he looked at me and said:
“You look like you have a stuck up attitude.”
His glassy eyes could not belie the displaced oppositional gaze that seized his sight.
I don’t remember the details of what unfolded next. What I do remember is getting up to leave the bus and stumbling over what I initially thought was something on the floor I failed to see. After exiting the bus, my roommate revealed what at eighteen I wasn’t ready to believe—the embittered young gentleman had tried to trip me.
If I had to, at twenty-nine, sum up what it feels like to be of the black female form-this anecdote would be my choice. To be black and proud is to live a life where so many people and things will try to trip you.
This “tripping” is hardly ever literal. Rather the “stumble” in esteem is commonly rendered in behaviors implemented to convince the black being that they are the err of the world.
I hear the teeth sucking as a speak. I feel the eyes roll as I assert my perspective without fret or apology. Most pretend to be familiar with what I say, or claim ownership over thoughts that never crossed their mind, not in lack of intellect, but in lack of courage to contest their masters– even in thought.
I refuse to bow my head when I walk. Instead I walk, as Maya Angelou proclaimed in “Still I Rise”:
like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room
And I do.
As a daughter of the naturally fecund continent of Africa, gold, oil, diamonds, and countless other earthly treasures run through the veins veiled by my melanated complexion.
My sassiness upsets them all. Uncle Toms and Aunt Thomasina’s begrudge my refusal to be silent. When actualized, their rage does not come from anything specific I have said or done—but my being as a testament to what could have been—how tall they could have been had they not surrendered their back to the bottoms of white feet.
To be black is to bear the expected placement beneath the feet of whites. I am to be grateful to not be hanging off a tree, though forced to endure “alternative” lynchings by way of police brutality, and cultural appropriation. We are to embrace those celebrated for what we’ve have for centuries, to treat it like its new. Specifically, I as a black woman, am expected to kiss Kim Kardashians fake derriere and celebrate Cardi B’s talentless reign over what black people started as an underground means to articulate their experiences of being black in America. I am to praise the celebrated derriere’s of Jennifer Lopez and Selena while my own curves are ridiculed and regarded as evidence of our kinship to animals. I am to envy Angelina Jolie’s lips, and Shakira’s hips, while mine qualify my exclusion.
I am expected to desire he who stole my last name and passed on the money made from my ancestor’s labor to his descendants
I am expected to aspire to be employable not an employer. I am to bear the insult of inclusion while deserving of ownership–to occupy the base when I should be the boss.
I am deemed “angry,” “bitter,” and “difficult” when at my most enlightened. My anger and bitterness though countered by my resiliency, is constantly used as ammo against me and my collective—cited as the reason why we are “single,” “unemployed” and “invisible.”
I have learned yes from no, up from down, and good from bad. I have spent a lifetime combatting the incessant efforts to reduce the unmatched contribution the black collective has made to the world.
To be black is to accomplish in spite of adversity-to learn that if someone or something has to work so hard to convince you that you are invisible, this means that you are most visible—that your adversaries see in you, what many can not see in themselves.
As an abducted child of Africa, I have endured countless efforts to break my spirit, to bend my backbone gradually so eventually I am hunched over in defeat.
To be black is to feel pressured to be sorry all the time. I am to be sorry for occupying traditionally white spaces solely made possible by the displacement of my ancestors. Sorry for not serving my expected function to enhance feelings of white superiority, not expose said superiority as a myth. Sorry for possessing black beauty and excellence in the face of white mediocrity. Sorry for understanding what has been designed to confuse me.
I am constantly warned of the pending “doom” my blackness will bring, that my hair, body, romantic options, etc will all turn into a pumpkin upon the midnight of middle age. I recall being told by an elder that I will one day wake up and “not recognize the person in the mirror.”
“Who is this?” you’ll say, looking desperately for the beauty that was once yours.
These words do not mark truth. Rather they mark the defeat of black beauty soured by a supremacy that convinced the black female form that her gold is garbage. This admonishment speaks of a destitution black women have been nurtured to align with their own blackness. In anticipation of what will become of me— I receive an informal invitation via insult to join the misery and acquiesce to the defeat expected of every person born black.
I am to define beauty as what money can buy, rather than what it cannot. To become engulfed in preoccupation with European noses and Indian hair. To silently state with fake hair, fake eyelashes, fake nails, and fake body parts that the black female form is only beautiful when veiled with the master’s tools.
I am to dim my light, to seem blind to my own beauty, to make everyone “comfortable” despite the daily discomfort imbued by my displacement in this stolen land. I am to bend to fit into doorways too small for the enormity of the beauty, intelligence, and resilience birthed from my blackness.
To be black is to accept death as a way of life. To literally step over the figurative corpses of those killed for their color. Our most notable leaders have experienced physical bullets cast their way as a means to silence the potential contagion of their courage, but we have all had the bullets of a western ideology that needs our paralysis to prolong their fictive reign as superior.
To be black is to also understand death as haunting to the “living,” but inevitably easier than life. To crave its foreboding presence when the fight weights heavily on mind and body. Yet, to truly be black is to choose life and endure its challenge—to look the oppositional gaze in the eye and refuse to be defeated— to refuse to be consumed by all the efforts made to destroy you, efforts to reduce you to a white mind in a black body.
Yet I remain in agreeance with Hurston’s assertion in How it Feels to Be a Colored Me:
“I am not tragically colored.”
Blackness is not a tragedy, it is a gift. The tragedy is having what the world wants, but being convinced that you desire what the world has stolen from you.
To be black is not a source of distress, but a source of strength.
A strength that inspires me to rise, despite every effort to cast me as another lifeless body on the concrete, or buried in a shallow grave of insecurity and mistruths. To rise despite every aspect to trip me or convince me that I am “trippin’’”
Whereas in actuality, when the world thought I was trippin, or tried to trip me, I stumbled into my destiny.
As a being of the black female form, my destiny is to sit on the same majestic thrones occupied my ancestors before slavery, bearing the richness of our legacy without remorse as those green with envy and ignorance throw stones at the throne.
So how does it feel to be colored/black me?
It feels royal.
I wear and write my crown.
Black Power ❤
Happy Birthday Miss Hurston, may you rest in the same peace you give me as a being of the black female form, and a voice of the black perspective.
I look forward to your posts!!