There. I said it. I’m tired, I’m done. I want to clean my hands of this shit, shave off my afro, buy a clean white body to wear so my intellect won’t be questioned each day I walk into class. I want to never have to talk about race again. I’m bored of having the same conversations with surprised white liberals who don’t realize that racism still exists in their clean, accepting little utopian bubbles. I didn’t sign a contract to educate you. I don’t get paid for this shit. I’m done. I want out.
– – – – – – – –
I felt homesick yesterday, so I signed up for a free trial for Hulu and watched a couple of episodes of Taggart, a poorly-acted yet timeless Scottish crime drama. The detectives were solving a murder linked to a jealous stripper and a local gang boss; not a hugely original storyline. Only – the stripper’s best friend was black. I mean, really black; chocolate brown, gorgeous afro, and – sexiest of all – a blatant Scottish accent. And her character had dimensions; she was a human being, no questions asked. She was beautiful, stood up for herself, and had faults, family, and friendships.
Tagggart, Season 27 Episode 5 – Bloodsport
It suddenly occured to me how long it had been since I had seen a TV show with a truly diverse cast. I realized how much I missed not having to think about tokenism, about the stereotypical ways in which black women are presented on American telly. I’d forgotten what it felt like when race just… wasn’t a talking point. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed having that kind of gentle, banterous relationship with the police. How I’d missed being in a country where the police force not carrying guns is an uncontested fact. Where police are there to protect, not murder.
Me posing with a stolen local policeman’s hat. I was sixteen. The cop giggled when I returned it to him. My dad invited him for Sunday lunch.
– – – – – – – –
I’m applying for internships for next summer. Fancy, competitive internships, investment banks, what wankers. My good friend Nathan Cordova is a professional photographer, and, in return for some volunteer work, had offered to take some headshots for my application. I turned the day over and over in my head – would my afro be unprofessional?
When I arrived at his house, I spent at least twenty minutes trying to flatten my beautiful, wooly, wild hair. We spent nearly half the shoot angling my face so that the loose frizz that strayed from the austere bun I had tied wouldn’t show in the picture. Halfway through the shoot, Nathan’s flatmate Lowell appeared – and, like most interactions with other black folks in the US, one look, one perfectly pitched giggle, said just enough to impart the message “I see you, I recognize why you’re doing this to yourself, I’m with you, I have your back”. Lowell used to cut black hair, so he happily entered the battle of trying to get my hair to behave.
But we soon realized that it wasn’t going to happen. So we let it loose. And the difference in the photographs was like night and day.
Before v after we let my hair loose (Photo credit to the incredibly talented Nathan Cordova)
What can we say about a society that forces people to hide who they are? Lowell told me that he had chopped off his dreads to interview for a corporate job. Why do we do this? Why is my natural hair “unprofessional”? Why do I have to hide who I am to claim humanity and respect within this society?
– – – – – – – –
I’m taking an economics class at Berkeley over the summer. My professor is from Texas. White. Just like last semester, Rose and I are the only two black girls in the class of over 200 students. When we raise our hands, we are “young Ellie” and “young Rose”. No one else is so patronized. On the first day, our professor called on 24 boys and only 3 girls (yes, me and Rose were two out of that three).
My professor is full of shit. His lectures are disorganized, and he spends more time complaining about his ex-wife than actually doing his job. The lectures are so bad that many students talk amongst themselves during class, pointing to the board and their notebooks, explaining misunderstood concepts to each other. Rose and I are no different.
The last midterm was a disaster, so much so that Rose decided to drop the class. “I’m going to audit it, mama”, she said to me, slapping my arm and forcibly offering me a ziploc bag of freshly sliced strawberries. “That way, I will kill it in the fall! And I’ll be cheering you on, I’ll sit next to you every lecture – you know you got this, ma!”
It’s Monday morning, 9.33am, and I’m a little late for lecture. I take my seat in the middle of the third row, right in front of the lectern, right next to Rose. My professor stands in the aisle nearest to us, points at me. Beckons.
I feel the lecture hall’s eyes on me.
I get up, climb over legs and backpacks; we stand in the back of the hall.
“I need you to stop talking during lecture. My hearing is bad, and you are distracting me.”
“That girl; did she drop the class?”
“Um, I think so, but -”
“Oh, well, she’ll be gone after a couple of days. You know what they’re like, the opportunity cost of sleep outweighs academic responsibilities.”
I gaped at him. He smiled. I returned to my seat.
I couldn’t learn today. I could barely write, my hands shook. My mouth stayed in a sharp line for the rest of the lecture; Rose felt my tension, and she responded by laughing too loudly at our professor’s crude jokes, resolutely keeping her hand raised, asking loud questions. After class, she grabbed my elbow and steered me out of the lecture hall.
“I like you better when you’re happy, you know”, she chided with a kind, knowing smile. “What’s up, ma?”
I told everything our professor had said to me, and she laughed, hugged me. Gently, she reminded me of Michelle’s mantra – “Now don’t you forget, when they go low, we go high. Let them think you’re the underdog.You gotta surprise them. Work harder, prove them wrong. He’ll be so shocked when I don’t miss a class – and neither will you, ma, you know it.”
I hugged her, found a quiet spot on campus, called my mum, and cried and cried and cried.
– – – – – – – –
You see, I’m tired of having these conversations every single day. I’m tired of being the black girl who’s duty it is to enlighten all the “unwoke” white folks. I’m tired of being a fucking diversity statistic. I’m tired of having to weave race into every conversation I have, but I know that I physically can’t stop talking about it, because I’m racialized to speak out against injustice, and I see injustice every minute of every goddamned day I spend here. I can’t escape it. I’m tired of apologizing to white people for being aggressive in my views, I’m tired of defending myself. I’m tired of waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror and wondering if what I look “too black” today – because I know that when my hair sits in soft limp curls, my questions in class get answered more than when my hair is in an afro. I’m tired of having to explain again and again the problems between appropriation and hip hop. I’m tired of having to tell people that the reason they are scared of rappers is because they are black, not because they sing songs about drugs and guns and hoes. I’m tired of being angry, I’m tired of being “woke”. I miss just being Scottish. I miss people being unafraid to touch my hair.
I can’t make myself forget that your grandfather’s grandfather owned my grandfather’s grandfather.