Elisha Bronner, Agnes Scott College
As we grow older, our experiences shape our mindsets, our thinking, our ways of living. As we grow older, we become aware of things previously unknown to us. As we grow older, we go through a series of changes: physically, emotionally, intellectually, mentally, and spiritually. As we grow older, we begin todiscover who we really are, where our identities are rooted. As we grow older, we learn to tune out the lies that are so prevalent in the world as we embark on a journey of discovering truth.
As a young black female, I found myself in an environment where my “blackness” was not understood and therefore not appreciated by my non-black peers and friends. And because of their misunderstanding of my racial and cultural identity, I had a misunderstanding of my racial and cultural identity myself. I tried to fit in with my friends of other races by having straight hair. I wished my lips and my hips were smaller. I wished my skin was lighter. I wished I wasn't black, and for so long I didn't consider myself as being black. Sure, my parents were black and my siblings were black, so I must have been black, but it was not something I wanted to accept. I disliked people of my own race because of their race, and I especially disliked people who fit the “black stereotype”, you know, the ones who were “loud, obnoxious and ratchet”. I disliked “gangsters” and “thugs” and generally any other black male I wasn't related to.
This way of thinking lasted for several years, but it became so natural to me that I didn't even recognize the way that I was thinking. I didn't realize I was not only degrading others of my race, but that these “others” were my fellow brothers and sisters. I didn't realize I was letting society feed lies to me about the black individual and community as a whole, and not only was I letting it happen, I was fully and actively supporting it.
It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I began to recognize my ignorance and how I let eurocentrism shape the way I had been viewing my black brothers and sisters for as long as I could remember. I remember sitting in my college dorm room with a few friends and they were asking me why I decided not to attend an HBCU. My response? “I don't like black people.” The look of shock/concern/disgust on their faces, followed by questions and comments I will never forget was the beginning of a shift in my thinking an attitudes towards my race.
The years following this conversation consisted of my eyes and ears being opened, my mindset being changed, and my identity being discovered, appreciated, and loved. Looking back on where I have come from and the things I used to say/think about myself and my own brothers and sisters makes me so grateful for the growth and changes that occur throughout our lives. As someone who was once very anti-black, although black herself, I can say with great confidence that change can happen and is very possible for anybody. But, I would also say that being the conversation starter to make that change happen is also very important, because had I not had the conversation I had in my dorm room sophomore year of college, I'm not sure where I would be now in regards to the way that I view myself and my black brothers and sisters.
So, start the conversation. Ask the hard questions. Challenge people's opinions and beliefs. You don't have to make them think and believe the same way you do, just ask questions that allow them to think about why they think a certain way.
Embrace your confidence. In a world that so desperately tries to make us think we are not good enough, not good looking enough, not smart enough, be confident enough to be you and be proud to be you. In a world that tries to turn everything into a competition, resist the pressure to compete with your brothers and sisters, and instead lift them up, encourage them, believe in them. Promote positivity and unity among each other. We are all we have.
Expand your mindset. Go somewhere different. Meet new people. Learn about others who have experiences that differ from your own. Allow their stories to inspire you, motivate you, and encourage you.
Surround yourself with people who love who they are. Surround yourself with people who are unashamed of their heritage and their identity, find your identity, and then go help someone else discover who they are. Help them ignite a passion and a love for their culture so that they can be an encouragement and influence for others.
Be you. At the end of the day, you are you. You can try to fit in with the crowd and be someone else to get others to view you in a certain way, but honestly, it's not worth it. Be you and love yourself for who YOU are.
Although being black in America is far from easy at times, being black is not a curse, but a blessing. God knew what He was doing when He made us black. He has given us beauty, power, influence, strength, and a multitude of other traits and qualities that should make us proud to be black.
May our confidence come from within and inspire the world around us.
May we love who we are, inside and out.
May we continue to inspire, love, and lift one another up.
May our afros grow and melanin glow.