I'm literally an American; I have a passport issued by the United States of America. I am, in fact, a citizen, born in the state of Kansas. But I am not an American, not figuratively.
I was born in 1957, three years after the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision that purportedly made segregation in public schools illegal. You know,
'separate but equal is inherently unequal.'' Yet it was 1968, a full 14 years after the Supreme Court ruling, before I attended a public school that was integrated. And I alone provided that integration.
Often I do not stand for the national anthem at sporting events or elsewhere. I sit quietly in protest. I refuse to ignore the "pink elephant'' of racism and inequality so pervasive in this country. I do not deny that things are better in 2014 than when I was born, but change has been slow in coming, and we still live in a largely segregated society.
I am constantly mistaken for other black people who look nothing like me -- most recently for a friend who is four inches shorter, has longer hair and much darker skin. I am not an American, because if I were not so akin to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man or Audre Lourde's Sister Outsider, Americans of European descent (read: white people) would see me, and I mean truly see me, and acknowledge in word and deed that we do not all look alike.
I am not an American and will not be an American until people of color are accurately depicted and reflected in the media. Likewise for government representation and corporate and nonprofit ownership.
I am not an American and will not be an American until folks recognize that race and color are not synonymous. That the term "people of color'' is not literal and that people of color come in a multitude of shades, from very light-skinned white to very dark-skinned black and all shades in between.
Our differences and similarities based on race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic class/status should be recognized, acknowledged and celebrated. The melting-pot theory robs us all of this wonderful diversity, and I refuse to participate in that assimilation.
I will be an American when diversity based on race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability is valued, accepted and pursued.
Until then I will remain a lesbian of African descent, born in the United States, holding citizenship and a passport. I do in fact recognize my privileges and choose not to live elsewhere. But I also see how far we as a society have to go to ensure full rights and access to all.