Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash
“When did you accept your black self? When did you add your blackness into your self-identity?
When did you first acknowledge it? When did you begin to like being a black woman/man?”
I did not always like the fact that I was black. For many of us, accepting our blackness comes with a lot of history and responsibilities? Though, you may not be aware of it, at some point, you had to go through a self-acceptance process to make sense of who you are. I wonder how many people are walking around in their lives and have not experienced this process?
My Black Experience
For me, the day had to come where I could look in the mirror and I accept the reflection that looked back at me. In my home country of Jamaica, I became quickly aware of the fact that I was supposed to hate my dark-skinned complexion. I became quickly aware that although I was being raised in a country that was black, the people that had the money and influence were not always my race, and soon on the heels of that, I began to learn that people who were lighter-skinned were viewed as prettier and more appealing. I often got reminded that my skin was too dark, that I should never marry anyone that was my complexion or darker because my babies would be too dark, that my lips were too big, and all the other issues associated with having a dark-skinned tone.
At a young age, I discovered that I was not happy with who I was, and that I should not be happy with who I was. When I moved to the US, I moved to New England where I was suddenly often the only black person in the room, or a handful of blacks in the room. I developed a new practice of immediately counting how many of us were in the room, a practice I still do today, something that I have come to recognize as a norm within the black community in America. I suddenly felt a weight that I never experienced before. Because I was often the only or one of a few present, I now had a responsibility to my race to behave, to speak well, to become a positive representation as I met people who had never met or did not have many interactions with black people. Although, as an adult now, the situation may not be the same as in New England, I still find myself being one of a few in the room often and still feel that responsibility. As a therapist, that responsibility seems to have become magnified as I recognize the low levels of representation within the mental health field.
What Does It Mean to Accept Your Blackness?
Accepting your blackness means accepting all that comes with being black. It means accepting all the history that is a part of the black culture. It means accepting the social issues that we deal with, for some of us – this is a daily issue. It means loving the complexion that you were born with, the natural curl and coils of our hair, the features that we were given. It means delving into the strengths that are woven into our DNAs. It means learning from the past and working to overcome inequalities and create a future for our culture and communities. It means celebrating our music, food, art, and expressions that uniquely represent us.
It also means recognizing that a lot of our histories have been lost as our stories have been told by other races countless times; it means recognizing the social issues that plague our culture and race. It means accepting that the general perception of our race is the oppressed but standing firm and understanding that other people’s perceptions of us do not have to become our realities. It means taking control of our destinies and stories. It means learning from the past so that we do not keep reliving it. It means celebrating those who have gone before us and paved the way in historic and amazing ways, but also seeing that our work is not done. It means celebrating those who are standing firm now and making strides for future generations. Accepting our blackness means taking responsibility for our role in these changes and taking control of the legacies that we want to leave our children and future generations.
For me, it is recognizing that all the experiences I had growing up finally matured into recognition of what others like me go through. It means advocating for my culture and communities. It means being a part of social progress so that I not only set an example for my children, but actively show them what a strong black woman looks like, all while teaching them that they get to define what kind of strong black women they want to be. For me, it means ending the generational poverty of lack of education, lack of financial resources, lack of future preparations, and lack of control. For me, it is saying, I am black, and I am finally happy with my self-identity.