I used to be ashamed of my upbringing when I first began conversing with my sistas and brothas in the conscious movement. I would remain quiet when they would speak of struggles and hardships that I never had to experience; tales of missing fathers, police sirens, gunshots, and poverty. My heart bled for them in silence. My tears ran freely. Thoughts of their childhood being cut often before their age reached double digits. I mourned the unburied dead that was their innocence.
I guess they though my silent anguish was for my own tragedy, one worst than they could ever imagine. They were curious and began to ask me to share my own stories but would recoil when I told them my tears were not for me but for them. I grew up sheltered and protected by a loving mother and father. My extended family and my community was even more love and protection. I was a sheltered, church girl, the youngest in my family, maybe even a little spoiled. My childhood was wonderful. Growing up surrounded by lush forest, green pastures, and huge front and back yards where I would play with my pets, siblings, cousins, and friends on hot summer days. Swing sets, pools, dolls, bikes, summer vacation flights to northern and east coast cities, road trips, shopping sprees, Christmas list fulfilled….I didn’t want for anything. But I felt ashamed.
I felt ashamed as my blackness diminished in their eyes, ashamed of my parent’s success, ashamed of the very peace that we were fighting for so that all little black boys and girls could feel as safe and protected as I did…
My mom worked her way of from assistant secretary to director, the highest position in her field, before she retired. She also owned her own catering business for a while. My father drew blueprints and designed houses, even internationally when I was very young, then came back home to work in the non-profit sector writing grants that enabled people to buy and keep land, and build and buy their own homes before he passed away when I was 18. They achieved this while living less than 30 minutes away from schools that still had two proms, while sending their children to segregated schools, and a high black population ruled by white power in the Black Belt of Alabama. But they made me feel ashamed.
I was 19 and didn’t know who Marcus Garvey was, never heard of Black Wall Street, of Seneca Village. They gave me the same book of lies called history books that every other child in America received. I spent my free time reading R.L. Stine and The Babysitter’s club because I didn’t know about the great African American literary period called the Harlem Renaissance until I was almost 18. I believed at that time that respectability would make the world accept me even while I did lunch with white friends who couldn’t take me to their houses because their parents didn’t allow it; even while they plan parties and cookouts that I couldn’t attend because their families would be there. I learned quickly in my historically white university that no matter how smart, articulate, or well-dressed and groomed I was, I could still be subjected to the same treatment that people who didn’t posses the traits do.
I started to wake up and be “conscious”. I started to realize that my sun kissed darkness meant something more than just an organ that protected my internal structures. I studied melanin, I returned to natural, started working with youth organizations, listening to neo-soul music, reading about Kemet, learning about American-born black religions and creeds, pre-slavery Africa, hidden truths… I kept my head in those books and websites. When I looked up, I was different. I saw the world differently. The lies, the deceit, the pure evilness of society. People I knew didn’t understand. I sought out these other people who seem like they had learned some of these secrets too only to have them shun me and question my blackness because of my lack of “struggle”.
What people need to understand is that everyone have different roles. We need all different types of people in this fight. We need people who march the streets with signs and chants, we need street soldiers to protect us, we need that college grad to help change laws and become advocates in the institutions that keep racism alive, we need speakers and writers to use their words to spread knowledge and change hearts. No one is invalid or useless in the conscious movement. We are all valuable and important no matter what our experiences include and no matter where we are on the journey to freedom and truth.