I feel the pain and frustration pretty often now, and, when I do, it comes from my gut. It starts off tiny, almost like an itch, and then slowly expands from there, growing as it spreads outwards. When it hits my chest, the expansion waxes exponential, and it careens toward my heart with full force, slamming into it like a sledgehammer. The pain of withdrawal after 22 years of believing in lies. The lie of an American dream that told me that we are all given a fair shot at life. The lies of my immigrant mother, who taught me that hard work would allow me to overcome any and all of life’s obstacles. The lies of countless white people who told me to my face that we were equal, the same even, while betraying their contempt in microaggresion after microaggression. And these were the white people who “meant well,” the ones who I actually liked and so couldn’t really be mad at them… right?
That wasn’t my play director at age 10 who told me that I needed to “act more like a white man.” Those weren’t the kids and teachers who drove my sister out of our predominantly white elementary school. Those weren’t the white kids in high school who told me again and again that I wasn’t “as smart as them” despite all of my academic awards and achievements. That wasn’t the guy two years ago who kept shouting “nigger” at me from a high-rise in a nice part of Chicago until I finally got in a cab.
And yet, through it all, I still believed. I believed that the color of my skin was just that—a color. I believed that my accomplishments would stand on their own. I believed that I could make it. And I believed that a lot of white people believed in me, my dreams and my aspirations as much as I did.
22 years of knowing, but not knowing. Of experiencing but not experiencing. Of believing it all….
And then there comes that moment, so important in the lives of all POC. That moment when the illusion you have built up your entire life shatters. That moment when you realize all of the lies you have been told… even by your own friends and family. That moment when you see the ugly of racism and oppression staring you in the face, and you realize how painfully real they are in your life, and how they stretch out far beyond your immediate surroundings and encircle the world, hurting so many other people both like and unlike you.
That moment when, for me, I finally realized that no matter how hard I worked, I’ll forever and always just be another nigger in the eyes of the world.
And that is the moment, so important in the lives of all POC, when we finally awaken. That moment when we finally “get” these issues and finally get off the kool-aid of white supremacy.