Courtney Chisholm/ MiC

I wanted to say “I’m sorry” to you, but I didn’t know how.

For a while, the phrase slipped off my tongue so often that I forgot what it meant. It seemed like it could cure anything. If I made a mistake, “I’m sorry” could render it inexistent. It put a bandage over the wound even though, more often than not, the pain was still there. I just chose to ignore it. Oftentimes, I was tortured by the anxiousness of saying what I really felt — to say why I did this or why I didn’t do that, but it seemed pointless to me. As I grew older, every time I sat in submission and mumbled an apology, Self-Deprecation tightened its grip on me. When I didn’t say sorry, I remained silent — I realize now that was when I wronged you most. It seemed easier to handle confrontation this way because I didn’t have to feel as though I was being sensitive or problematic, like people presumed me to be. Ever since that day, every time I kept my mouth closed when I should’ve spoken up, I prayed for a chance to do what I should’ve done years ago. A cycle of insincerity became me.

It happened during orchestra class in grade school. You were a really timid person from what I could remember. All of the students were talking about composers as a part of our class discussion when you made the abrupt decision to say, “I love Yiruma.” Your comment was met with silent judgment and confused stares.

“Courtney, aren’t you Black?” one of the students commented.

“Yes,” you responded hesitantly. He laughed.

“No, you’re not. What kind of Black person listens to that? You don’t even act Black. You don’t talk like them either. I’m Blacker than you, and I’m white.”

“He’s an Oreo!” another student yelled.

You were humiliated. Even though those words were spilled from adolescent minds, they still hurt because it felt as though someone stole something that was rightfully yours. In that moment, I saw the rage inch up your throat, ready to burst into a fit of words I’ve never heard you say before, but instead, you covered your emotions with a chuckle and shrugged an apology. I know you didn’t mean it.

I’m sorry I didn’t speak up for you. I convinced myself I didn’t need to say a word because you didn’t need to explain yourself, but that wasn’t true. At the time, I considered what people thought of me in the highest regard, that silence seemed to be the best solution when handling confrontation, but it wasn’t. This small, brief moment eventually led to countless other instances where people have deemed you “Black by technicality.” After a while, you listened and believed it to be true. You believed that because you didn’t conform to popularized Black stereotypes, you weren’t really Black. You didn’t listen to trap or hip-hop. You didn’t wear a pick in your ’fro or dress with your pants halfway down your legs like some people thought you should have. When you began to pick up on these small instances, eventually, an important part of your identity was internally questioned. From that moment, most of your thoughts and actions stemmed from validation; when you interacted with other people, you changed how you dressed and behaved to start a new personal narrative and prove you’re worthy to wear the skin you were born with.

What if I had said something to defend you during that orchestra class years ago? What’s the worst that could’ve happened? You could’ve felt better about yourself. You could’ve asserted that being Black is more than some perceived it to be. I know you considered it to be a community that you could learn from and look up to — one where every person is different but shares a type of unity within culture, history and experiences. As a Black man, listening to Yiruma or any other type of music shouldn’t strip that away from you. If anything, it simply shows that Blackness is multidimensional and has more sides than some would pay attention to. Maybe those students from grade school didn’t know better and you could’ve helped them understand. By speaking up in that brief moment years ago, you wouldn’t have had to carry the guilt of not doing so. I know you did because I now do.

I wanted to tell you, since that experience, I learned to flee from silence. Before, saying what I truly felt was burdening, but now, I find settling to be intolerable. I learned to be uncomfortable keeping my mouth closed when I have something pressing to say. I don’t think I should feel stifled out of embarrassment or shame from others. If anything, it should give me more of a reason to speak up because I have as much of a right to say how I feel as anyone else does. Whenever I feel that voice inside of me saying that I shouldn’t take hurtful jokes too seriously or I should flash a smile and apology in response to it, I silence it because my emotions are valid. By keeping quiet, the only disservice I would be committing is to you.

Courtney, I should’ve had a lot more respect for you, and for that, I sincerely apologize.

MiC Columnist Courtney Chisholm can be reached at