This is part two in a four-part series on what our contributors learned about themselves in 2020.
Growing up Black in America, I have always wondered why Black history is confined to just one month.
If being African American is truly American, like my 7-year-old mixed-race daughter figured out at the age of 5, wouldn’t Black history be equitably celebrated in the American classroom all year long?
The plea for social justice has been sketched into the forefront of most of our minds after the police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed. The pervasive lack of humanity Black people face is exemplified by having to see images of these killings over and over.
2020 has undeniably been the year where you have no choice but to look at your own role in this.
What legacy will we leave our children? The same siren has been sounding for the last 400-plus years, but only certain people can hear it.
What has 2020 taught me? There is no room for complicity. There is no space for complicit people in my life.
Time is up.
Each one of us that turns a blind eye is condoning racism. Each one of us who knows that racism is embedded in the rubric of America and says “This is just how things are done” is a part of the problem.
My parents explained to me at an early age that I would always have to be two times better than my White counterparts at everything. And that one day, at some point, someone would call me the n-word. Like clockwork, after we had moved from the West Side of Chicago to the Northwest suburbs of the city, it happened. I was no longer surrounded by my majority-Black peers. Instead, the majority of my peers were White, and there were just a handful of Black and brown kids. A White boy in my fourth-grade class didn’t want me to be on the playground slide, so he went ahead and did what my parents warned me would happen one day.
“You must have the emotional intelligence to know that some people will never like you just because of the color of your skin,” my parents told me. “Do not let that dishearten you.”
And I did not. But what happened on the playground would always live with me. And it would create a framework for how I would need to navigate the world as a dark-skinned Black woman.
My lens of the world could never be like my non-Black peers. Creating an African American guidebook of sorts based on my parents’ experiences would be my blueprint for life.
Nikita, make sure to:
+ Speak proper English in public
+ Always be careful around police, make sure to do exactly what they say, refrain from talking back
+ When you go for your first real job, memorize everything about the company and assert that you have a degree in that field
+ Once you apply for your first mortgage, have everything they ask in perfect order, and make sure you make more than the three times what the mortgage payment requires
+ Be aware that even if you do these things, you are still going to confront inequity because you are Black. Strive for more despite it.
I did exactly as they ascribed, and still, I was met with jarring racism for thinking that I had the right to speak textbook-style English or apply for a job for which I was more than qualified. When I went to purchase my first home, I was immediately struck down by a mortgage lender who said I could not afford the home, even though my salary was five times the mortgage payment.
And when I got engaged to my husband, who is South Asian, I was accosted by the prevalence of anti-Blackness across many cultures. He met an uphill battle, and after we got married, he would abruptly become acquainted with the trauma tied to the African American experience in America: Sitting and watching in horror as I feared for my life and believed I was going to die during childbirth because no one believed the pain I was in. Having the police called to our home in broad daylight because someone assumed we were breaking into the home.
2020 has caused me to call out my own fears — internalized fears about raising a mixed-race child. It’s made me unapologetic about confronting what the calls for social justice mean for our daughter and her future.
My hope is that she will never need the type of guidebook my parents raised me with, that such a concept will be obsolete by the time she’s an adult.
It might seem hopeful, but the time for complicity is over.