The Elephant in the Room by Jennifer Saul
When I meet people for the first time, I like to address the elephant in the room: “Hi guys, it’s me! Yes, I’m Black and no, I’m not angry…today.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced a life where I wasn’t signaled out because I am Black. Growing up, I knew from as far back as I could remember that I am Black, that everyone knew it and could see it, and that because of my Blackness, certain unfair thoughts were presumed of me. I also knew that I was disadvantaged because of the color of my skin, and that any advancement from my current way of life would be because of my hard work, effort, and the grace of God. I knew all of this to be true by the time I was old enough to start school.
In elementary school, I knew that when I became the first Black girl to ever win my school’s fifth grade oratorical contest, that I would have my paper checked for plagiarism. I knew that when I tested into gifted classes that I would have to take the test twice “just in case.” In middle school, I knew that I was expected to speak and act one way amongst Blacks and a separate way amongst whites. I knew that if I wanted to go to college, I would have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as my white classmates, and that even then, I would have to earn a scholarship. In high school, I knew that I was feared to be a dangerous and oversexed animal that deserved whatever I got. I knew that there was a right and a wrong way to pull over for a police officer, but there was only one way to do it that didn’t result in death.
It’s an uneasy feeling knowing that your presence frightens someone; disgusts someone; or even that your very existence means so little to someone; especially when you have to put your life into that someone’s hands. I interacted with people daily before quarantine and had to trust that they were good people, who were treating me fairly. When they proved themselves to be otherwise, I again had to trust that they would allow me to walk away from them unharmed. It’s demoralizing being forced to take the high road for generations; to remain humble and modest for centuries; to always think if only you had worked hard enough…
I come in contact often with those that “don’t see color” and it is such a ridiculous thing to say. It’s like saying that you don’t see me at all because I contain color; which is unfortunately the case for many Americans. My truth is that I am Black. It’s not a secret; I know I’m Black and I’ve known for a long time, so I don’t need you to pretend that I’m not. I don’t need you to prove to me how antiracist you are. Because while we both know you mean well, meaning well doesn’t change anything, and change is what I need more than anything. Help me rebuild our society so that Black people are seen fully and wholly. Help me put an end to police unions. Help me hold our elected officials accountable for all of their constituents. Help me give Black children their innocence back.
The elephant in the room by Jenifer Saul.