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Living While Black in the US Is to Resist Being Defined by Others

How I define myself and my Black joy, pain, hope or sadness in those moments is insignificant to them and how they define us.

Sometimes when I get really down, I just write. Not for anyone but me. Not to share (but my wife encouraged me to share this), but to get out my feelings and emotions. I write because as a woman of color, we aren’t allowed to lose it. We have to keep it together. I’m successful and doing well professionally. I’m not naïve. I know that my ability to make a joke, flash a dimple, and be laid back and chill helps. What if I wasn’t into jokes, didn’t smile as much, and was angry all the time?

Guess what? I am. I just hide it. My parents taught me how. They knew I would need itto survive.

But that’s why I write. And honestly, I don’t write that much, because if I write I let it out. If I write, I admit it. If I write, I cry. If I write I give into the feelings. If I write I have to stop. I have to stop working. I have to stop believing I’m okay. I have to stop pretending I cannot remember all the aggressions and instances of racism I’ve so neatly packed away. I have to stop being numb to the world I live in, the things that bother me, the things that scare me, the things that will one day kill me. Maybe one day sooner than I thought. Maybe one day before I get to tell my family how much I love them. Maybe one day before I finish the bag of skittles I’m eating (and the only skittles you better ever talk to me about). One day before I finish the book I’m reading. One day before I fix my car that died in the middle of the street.

My car was in a wreck today. I wasn’t driving. But when I got the call, all I thought about was thank goodness I wasn’t driving. Today could have been my day. I got this call in the middle of a meeting. I had this panic attack inside, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think, but I finished that meeting. I charmed those people. It was a success. I was freaking out, what if today was my day. But that’s what we do, push it aside, keep going.

I don’t write because I feel like I don’t have time. I need to make time. But how do you make time when you’re constantly on borrowed time? I haven’t been able to check my email today. I haven’t been able to articulate to my white wife why I want to cry because I’m not sure she’ll understand and I don’t want to be upset if she doesn’t. I’ve had a lot of non-Black friends text me today and tell me they love me. I love them, but I can’t. Oppressed people will always need allies. I’m so happy that more people in my life are talking about Black lives than Brad and Angie or how many Kardashians Game slept with. I love you all. Keep fighting. But I can’t today.

I keep running over and over again in my head the last time someone called me sir (spoiler alert: every damn day). Today with my baseball cap over my eyes (so no one could see the pain) and my all Black everything, I watched people watch me. I watched people wonder. I watched people try to figure out what — not who, I’m not a who to those eyes — inhabited my body.

I am pretty comfortable with who I am, but when people call me sir it bugs the shit out of me. Today I realized. It doesn’t bug me. It scares me. I’m walking through this world and when I’m dressed and moving in ways that are most authentic and comfortable tome I am a man or trans or both or neither in other people’s eyes. It’s not how I self define, but if there is one thing we know as Black people in this country, it’s not how we define ourselves, it’s how they define us.

My parents raised me to believe I’m smart. I’m talented. I’m funny. I’m honest. I’m kind. I’m caring. I’m good. I’m flawed. I’m me. I’m perfect. They also raised me to be aware that to they, I’m dangerous. Because that is how they define me. As Black kids we’re raised to understand early that they have a definition that matters. They have a definition that wins. They have a definition that kills. Even if I’m good. Do you have toteach your kids that? Do you understand the pain in knowing you have to do it, but fearing what happens if you don’t?

Whether it’s white teachers lying to my parents and saying they didn’t offer honors classes because they defined me as not smart enough to succeed. Or when all the Black students from my college went on a road trip to a conference and had a group of police officers show up when we stopped for gas to arrest us because a concerned citizen defined us as a gang that was there to rob everyone. Or white administrators not protecting me against my supervisor beating and sexually abusing me for months when I was just a college kid because they defined me as hypersexual and wanting it. Or a year later defining me as a rapist because a white girl who wanted to date me didn’t like when I said no and they could still only define me as hypersexual and a predator who must have been the one rejected and needed to go to prison as a result. Or when my colleague can’t recognize my success as the product of hard work because they define it as me cheating by using my Black queerness to get ahead and oppress and threaten them. Or when a cop stops me and defines me as a suspect when I’m being thegood friend taking people home or riding a bike that’s too nice or driving on Stanford’s campus when its only for students.

How I define myself, my friends and our Black joy, pain, hope or sadness in those moments is insignificant to them and how they define us.

I posted a picture of me with my hands up don’t shoot shirt. And every time I look at this picture, I think of the expression on my face. Partial smirk, partial smile, partial mean mug, partial sadness. I get the mean mug. Fuck this shit, I wish you would shoot me. I get the sadness. Fuck this. Again? Who died now? Let me get my hashtags ready. But the smirk? The smile?

I smirk and I smile because I know I’m going to be all right. I smirk and smile because I know that no matter how uncomfortable a Black man on a knee makes you, CK isright. I don’t know if the next time someone calls me sir, and I turn around with my smirk because they don’t see me they just see they definition of me, I don’t know if it’s the last time. I think it’s this acknowledgment that I’m going to die. And if I go, I don’t want there to be fear on my face. I want the smirk. Because when they find out that I am good, they’ll regret it, right? We’re all good. We all have value. We’re all people. Maybe it won’t matter who I am. To them, I’ll be whatever they defined me as before they pulled the trigger. To experience life as Black people in this country. To listen tothey define us. How can we do all that and not smirk? They don’t know us. They fear us. That fear prevents them from ever knowing, ever asking, ever feeling beyond fear. Every picture, every sunrise, every sunset. It’s borrowed time. And sure, maybe I won’t get shot by a cop. Maybe I’ll keep eating my feelings every time I see one of my brothers or sisters get shot and that state of pre-diabetes I’m in will finally catch up with me. But tell me that ain’t they fault? Tell me any of my brothers and sisters facing this ain’t here because they systematically segregate us in neighborhoods without healthy food choices and options?

Maybe I’ll get hit by a car riding my bike. But tell me that ain’t they fault. Tell me any of my brothers and sisters facing traffic tragedies ain’t dying because they systematically segregate us in neighborhoods with no sidewalks or infrastructure or concern and don’t ever talk to us about what we need in our neighborhoods because they’re too scared or unskilled to be here. Maybe I’ll die fighting the good fight (what fight is that?) in this nonprofit work I do. But tell me that ain’t they fault. Tell me any of my brothers and sisters aren’t out here fighting for the rights of our people, not taking care of ourselves, not making sure we’re okay because they won’t fight for usand if we don’t got us, no one has us.

Can you tell me that? Maybe not. So you’ll like a picture of something that doesn’t matter or that feels safe to you. You’ll criticize people who don’t agree with you when you say all lives or blue lives matter, but you won’t do shit about any of these definitions they keep putting on us. Maybe you don’t think all lives matter, but you stay silent when your friends of color are hurting and you do it because deep down you don’t know what to do. I understand. I feel that. I don’t know what to do either, but I just keep getting up. I keep doing things, like living as a Black person in this country, that don’t feel safe. I don’t have a choice. You do. I just keep smirking when I see another day, telling all the folks of color that I love them and hope that when they define me tomorrow, it’s not the day their definition finally catches up with me.

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