I spent my whole childhood defining my Blackness with words that were not mine for the choosing. My peers defined Blackness by hip-hop, poverty and a certain accent, and when I didn’t fit their stereotype, I was flippantly called an Oreo. My parents did what they could to give me a solid foundation in my identity, but when half of my day was spent around people who looked nothing like me, there’s only so much they could do. I was left feeling irrevocably inadequate; not Black enough to truly be Black. My self-confidence ached in the deepest of ways, unable to overcome such a deep-rooted feeling of confusion and disconnection. My Blackness was silenced, and worse, I didn’t necessarily believe that was a bad thing.
It wasn’t until I was exposed to the written works of women of color that I began to fathom a version of self-acceptance that was previously denied to me. Proponents of radical self-love — such as Audre Lorde, Rupi Kaur, Michelle Obama and bell hooks — were the role models I didn’t know I needed. They taught me the necessity of unconditionally accepting who I am, and that includes the histories, experiences and uniqueness inherent in my identities. And now, I can breathe a little bit easier knowing I have the agency to define my Blackness how I please, and I have the agency to live out my truth unforgivingly.
Too often the experiences of people of color are placed into hollow molds that condense narratives into a single experience, one that is frequently stereotypical, distorted and derogatory. These misconstrued stories not only cause misunderstandings between communities, but they cause internal alienation and dissonance when one’s own experience does not match up with the dominant narrative. I experienced this firsthand, and all of this could have been avoided if the individual narratives of people of color were valued in their entirety and individuality.
Michigan in Color is the platform I have been seeking to affirm the individual lived experience of people of color. As I work daily to build the confidence in my own voice, MiC is dedicated to projecting voices that have been historically and systematically muted. Through my time in MiC, I will hope to not only form the words of my own story, but to unconditionally affirm others in the search for their own. I welcome the mutual vulnerability, growth and power that will arise from such an energetic space.