I have been running a video clip of CNN’s upcoming two-part series “Black in America” on my blog and I had to ponder for a moment what being black in America really meant. I must admit, that my life’s journey did not start in much the same way as many blacks in America. I was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and I spent most of my formative years there. The way of life was somewhat different. You see, it was not about the color of my skin in Jamaica. I was limited only by my capabilities and not the “system.” Jamaica was, and still is, a melting pot, though the country is confounded with high crime and unemployment rates. Jamaica back in the years of my youth was a wonderful place to be. The quality of education was second to none. When I started my undergraduate years at Ohio University, I breezed through the first two years with relative ease of having done most of the work at Mt. Alvernia High School in Montego Bay. Jamaica taught me how to be a person and to reach for the stars, but America taught me to fight for what I want and believe in. Being black in America gave me a strong sense of determination and a drive to succeed against all the odds, because I saw freedom fighters like Johnnie Carr, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Madame C. J. Walker, Harriet Tubman and others, fight for a cause they believed in with a fierce determination that was virtually matchless.
As a child I had friends of all ethnicities and was never made to feel that I was somehow inferior to anyone. My first encounter with racism came one night while slightly inebriated after a night at a student hang-out of the campus of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. A white male student, obviously drunk also, called me a nigger. I was taken aback because I was never called that in all my life. I ran up to him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. He, obviously realizing that he was grossly outnumbered, started saying that he was from Queens, New York and had a lot of black friends. One of my male friends slapped him up a little and we left feeling that exhilarated, in some way. Though that was the only openly racist name I have ever been called, I have been discriminated subtly in the work place in at least two companies I worked for. My husband and I were discriminated against when we were seeking to rent an apartment in a tony section of Queens. I’ll never forget the realtor’s name–Rabani. The first one I can say discriminated against us because we were black seeking to move into a predominantly white neighborhood. Suddenly the rent skyrocketed and the deposit and security payments tripled.
In all honesty, being black in America is a lot different from the 1930s or even 1960s. We are able to achieve a lot more and we are not barred from going and living where we choose in most instances. We are able to live the American Dream in a sense. But what does being black in America really mean? For some, it means a heavy burden and the continued discrimination, though very subtle in most instances. For others, it means the culmination of dreams. Many blacks have transcended race and today we stand on the threshold of greatness–Barack Obama, the first African American to be a serious contender for the presidency. We have made great strides towards equality for all, but we are still a long way off. For many of us, being black in America means living in with the burden of mistrust by many, inferior health care, rundown neighborhoods, high crime rates, high school drop out rates and being automatically suspected of crimes and even being falsely imprisoned for crimes we did not commit. So, when Michelle Obama uttered those words that she was proud of her country for the first time in her adult life, I understood and appreciated what she meant. Unless you are black in America, you will not fully understand her position, but you can appreciate her candor. You see, America was not always kind to blacks and still isn’t in many regards. So, from a historical context, being black in America was living hell for so many of our ancestors.
I open the forum to my readers who are of African descent and living in America. What does being black in America mean to you? Please share your thoughts.