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Posted under: Opinion

Navigating My Blackness As A Haitian-American And Fighting For Black Lives To Matter

White America has tricked so many in the Black community into believing we had to be just one thing.

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We are a nation of divided people.

We are a nation of people whose histories have yet to be written in this country.

We are a nation of souls divided.

We are America.

A part of me feels very privileged to walk in the shoes that my ancestors never got to fill. Being of Haitian descent, my history feels very different from those around me. I hear the history of Black America just a little removed from their truth. This is not because I don’t relate or that I cannot empathize — I feel removed because as a child, being Haitian American was different than being “Black.”

Growing up, being Haitian had not yet been popularized. People looked down on us, mocked us and bullied us in classrooms. Being Haitian wasn’t cool or trendy — it was just another reason we were different. As if the bullying wasn’t enough in school, it was no different around the Haitian community outside of school. To be born and raised on the island of Haiti creates a very different Haitian experience and creates an unmatched sense of pride that comes from living within the culture whose legacy you carry. However, to be Haitian and American is to exist in a space in-between Black and American.

Trayvon Martin was killed in February of 2012.

Eric Garner was killed in July of 2014.

Michael Brown was killed in August of 2014.

Tamir Rice was killed in November of 2014.

My mother asked me why I feel so deeply for the loss of Black life, why for so many years I protested, I screamed, I mourned and I cried with the rest of Black America. I used to ask her why she didn’t? It wasn’t until later I realized that for my mother, her truth is that she is Haitian first and Black second. And me? Well, I hadn’t quite figured out who I could be, living in so many different worlds at once.

Natasha McKenna was killed in February of 2015.

Freddie Gray was killed in April of 2015.

Sandra Bland was killed in July of 2015.

Bettie Jones was killed in December of 2015.

And as I began my undergraduate career, so sparked the beginning of what felt like a revolution for Black and brown students at universities across America. Being Black at a predominately white institution felt like experiencing every type of Black there is — and feeling self-conscious about every kind you can be. 

Missouri happened, and we were “Black” — educated “Blacks.” We helped universities give off the false impression of diversity. But Black never stopped being a “bad” race to be, it just became useful for white administrators. When I realized that, every protest and every tear I shed was as a Black woman first and foremost. However, the interesting thing about college is that certain pieces of you become increasingly scared over time.

The first time a white man put his hand in my hair, I decided I wouldn’t wear it out anymore. The first time someone assumed my admission into college was affirmative action, I decided I would show everyone it wasn’t. And the first time my “peers” denied me access to social events because of my skin, I decided I didn’t need to know them.

I used to consider myself privileged to be Haitian, American and Black; it almost felt like being three people at once. However, as I continue on this journey, I realize that being three people just makes the struggle to navigate systemic and institutionalized racism that much harder. Navigating these systems is a battle only few learn to survive.

Philando Castile was killed in July of 2016.

Korryn Gaines was killed in August of 2016.

Stephon Clark was killed in March of 2018.

Pamela Turner was killed in May of 2019.

And on goes the list of lives lost…

I never had to ask myself whether or not I was Black. My questions more so revolved around my own journey of discovering how Black I could be without losing the Haitian in me.

As I became a community organizer on campus and an avid reader of all things racial justice — shout out to my social justice mother, Angela Davis — I began to realize that the decision to be either Black or Haitian wasn’t one I had to make in order to be effective as an activist or as a leader.

White America has tricked so many in the Black community into believing we had to be just one thing. In my case, it was the belief that I couldn’t be Haitian and American while simultaneously being Black. It is not anti-American to celebrate your intersectionality, and the lack of this celebration is often what divides us. There is unity in numbers. There is unity in difference. A community divided is a community at unrest.

Systemic racism is criminalizing the behavior of a group the majority has decided to make “same.” Systemic racism is fueling Black youth with self-doubt, less resources and no role models, then telling them that they are the problem. Then while overlooking the educational system that is already pinned against them, we label Black children with ADHD and ODD to make Black mothers so scared of the stigma of mental illness, that for decades our ancestors fear words like “therapy” or “depression.”

Systemic racism is constantly beating down Black people — removing resources, and creating a battle of need — then calling them the “thugs.”

Ahmaud Arbery, was murdered on February 23, 2020. A murder that was concealed and hidden away from this nation at unrest because white people needed to protect their own.

Breonna Taylor, March 13, 2020. A murder hidden, concealed, again from a nation at unrest, because white people stick together and Black life seems disposable.

George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. A murder documented and mourned by all of America, not just those who are Black and American. As the protests began and stories began to change, this divided nation — Haitian, Jamaican, Irish, Armenian, Latinx, Black and white — all 50 states collectively said, “no more.” 

For once in the decade that I’ve spent discovering my Blackness, “Black Lives Matter” didn't feel like an unheard ode to freedom.

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A young, educated, Black Woman with many words, and many stories to share.