I discovered that I was black in the third grade. No -- not really. I have always known that I had brown skin, but I did not start to realize what having brown or black skin represented in a social, economic and legal context until halfway through elementary school.
During my younger years, I attended a predominantly white elementary school. In the third grade, after finishing our lesson about the Civil Rights Movement, my teacher stated, "If it weren't for Martin Luther King Jr., Nasir and [other student] would not be in this class with us today." I'm sure that my grade-school teacher did not mean any harm by this comment, but it was definitely shocking -- mainly because I did not recognize any major differences between my classmates and myself; color did not seem like a reasonable factor for difference. Sure, I was a cocoa puff swimming in a sea of milk, but I did not think to imagine that some would see my caramel-mocha colored skin as an inferiority. My teacher then reassured us that the United States is a "melting pot" by saying something along the lines of, "But times are different now and we are all equal."
She was wrong.
Sorry lady, but we're definitely not equal.
Although most well-educated people know that race is a social construct, and it does not scientifically exist. This concept of "race" still institutionally and socially puts people of color at a disadvantage. After being being educated on: the killings of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and numerous people of color (especially trans* persons of color), unjust mass incarceration rates, enormous poverty gaps, de facto segregation of neighborhoods and schools and lack of color diversity amongst people in social, political and economic power, I have come to the harsh realization people of color are not equal, nor will we ever be if we keep "progressing" at this rate. Although I would love to live in a "color blind" society, it is impossible to live that way when color has been one of the deciding factors of one's fate since the conception of this nation.
In no way am I saying that these injustices are "white people's" fault, because clearly not all white people are racist or prejudiced. But we live in a society that was literally constructed for white people to excel and succeed over persons of color and it is necessary for all to recognize this -- it's a fact, just accept it. The way to make an impact is to change systems of power, which happen to be run by many white people. I applaud the white people who recognize their privileges, both basic and complex (no, being privileged does not discredit your accomplishments, but it can be often helpful in your daily lives), and those who question the injustices which may or may not affect them. Now it's time for you to speak out about these injustices in order to petition for change; persons of power will listen to you before they'll listen to us. But that's for you to decide if you want to help.
In terms of folks of color, I understand our people are being exploited and killed. We're sick of this mess. It's been going on for hundreds of years in this country, and it is continuing to go on; mass incarceration can be seen as modern day slavery. Unfortunately, I do not have answers for a change or for this revolution. It is frustrating to live in a society which tries to close our minds and our mouths when we try to express our discomfort and anger with these issues. Although we want change, it's important to think about the consequences of our actions, whatever they may be. Although, we have been wronged and we're upset, creating more "wrongs" will not create a "right." But, once again, that is for you to decide.
I'm not blaming one person or one community, but it's just important for us all to remember that we are important, and there are certain groups that need to be reminded of this more than others -- mainly because of the lack of support they've received and are still receiving. We need to realize that having melanin in one's skin does not make him/her less of a human being.
I was first exposed to the concept of "race" in elementary school, but it was not until high school when I understood where I play a role in this system. The process of realizing and accepting one's race is not necessarily applicable to most white people. I recommend that we just admit that we live in a society where race plays a role in our daily lives. Denying the idea of race will not make it go away. I recommend that all people, no matter what color, self-reflect and question their understanding of race and how race affects them, whether in a positive or negative way. Once this self-reflection is complete and we recognize the injustices of this system, then we can better plan to make a change.
Our "American experience" should not be minimized by the hue of our skin.