By Chanel Davis
Being a young black woman, I often think of ways to be better. Recently I stopped and thought, “What am I trying to be better at?” Is it being better at skills or making moral decisions? Or did I mean being better at making those around me comfortable so that I could “fit in?”
I was taught growing up to never be too loud or to never draw attention to yourself. Never upset people and to not be one where chaos follows you. And it is understandable why we were taught this. They were afraid.
Living in today’s times, being better has little to do with what I was taught growing up. What I was told in hindsight is to not draw attention to those who have oppressed us in hopes of being better behaved to be likable in our country.
I can remember the first time I was called the N-word. I was attending school in Alabama. It was maybe a Saturday night after a party had occurred somewhere in the small town of Livingston, AL where I attended college. It was about 2AM and I was walking with a friend who was a black male. As we were talking and laughing, there were no cars in sight and the peaceful silence at night was never unusual.
As we were having our late-night stroll, we see headlights in the distance that were rapidly approaching the intersection we were on. We turned our heads to see who it was and as the vehicle approached in speed, we see a pickup truck full of white boys who looked to be no older than high schoolers. As they sped up and by us, a few were on the back of the truck while others inside. While passing, they proceeded to yell “Go back where you came from you N****rs!”
The first feeling I felt was fear. It was fear before being angry at the words they spewed. It was fear in my heart of what if they were to turn around and chase us as we were on foot. Would we get away? Did they have weapons? Were they joking? Who cares if they were joking?! Are we in danger?!
That was the first time I had ever experienced racism where I was able to blatantly recognize it by being called something both demeaning and disgusting.
In that moment in Alabama of being called the N-word, I knew what I was told growing up of behaving in a way to not make those who don’t have the same color skin as me not feel uncomfortable. Just simply existing is a means for one to look at me differently.
I can be minding my business and still be offensive. How sway, right?
It does not matter how educated I am, how well I articulate, how broad my vocabulary is, or even how many white people I know. Whether it is past teammates who praised how high I jumped on the court or past employers who hired me on a staff where I was the only black individual in the room or WHOLE company. I was different and I also offered some type of value to them. But it was deeper than that.
What I was told growing up is not what I put regards to being better. Being better is learning and identifying who I am. It is me creating opportunities for the next generation. It is all of us assembling as a people.
It is being proactive versus being reactive.
Now what I am telling you…
Being better is actively changing the meaning and learning to use your voice and existence to change the climate of America. It is having those tough conversations and bringing awareness of oppression and inequality. Even after the Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there is still work to be done. I am most concerned with being better at changing the narrative of how we were raised to reconstruct what is being passed down.
Do not hold your head down to make others comfortable in a space you deserve and earned. Use you voice to speak truths without fear of being misunderstood. Not conforming to be aesthetically pleasing in the eye of those who look different. Being a role model to live in truth and not in fear.
That small moment where I experienced fear in Alabama is a moment that had a big effect on my view of how the world reacts. I stepped out of my cloud of ignorance that racism could not happen or nor touch me. I look at the news and social media and grieve from what I see. It is heartbreaking to see how my people are being treated. People fear what they do not understand. It would be easy to say to do the work to be well educated. So I will start with myself. My heart goes out to everyone who feels the hatred and mistreatment.
What I was told is not reflective parallelism to what I wish to create in my lifetime.
Chanel Davis is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Chanel is the creator and operator of the Diary Of A Chocolate Girl podcast aiming to connect with chocolate girls all over through personal experiences and opinions with mild humor and a spiritual flare. Be sure to connect on IG and Facebook @DiaryofaChocolateGirl.