This is a “self-portrait” I made in 2003. Obviously, something is not quite right. Under the guidance of my teachers, I put paint to construction paper and conjured up a portrait, not of myself, but of a white face I’d never known. It’s easy to chalk this up to wild childhood creativity and a limited color palette. It’s even easier to laugh it off and make one big joke of it all – I know because I’ve done both. What is hard to admit is that I just wanted the world I loved so much to love me back. So much so that I’d shed my skin and sense of identity, wear a mask, and contort myself to fit the rigid white mold that society set out for me. It’s even harder to unpack the deep-seated anxieties and anguish of growing up Black in the United States – something I’ve only started to do recently.
I was five years old when I knew that my reflection in the mirror was not one that would be considered worthy or beautiful by the masses. It starts that young. I’ve been hit with comments and have been on the receiving end of actions tinged with anger, hatred, and ignorance that have had the capacity to strip me of my confidence, time, value, self-worth, and will to carry on — and I’ve let them.
I’ve settled for complacency, cried myself to sleep, and have stood in silence while I’ve watched those closest to me embody that very same ignorance. I have always been someone who is extremely sensitive to the world around them — almost to my detriment. It takes me a minute to figure out exactly what I want to say, and how I want to say it, and when I do, my voice is never the loudest in the room. I don’t like to be vulnerable and I often struggle to look people in the eye. I’ve been in countless classrooms where I’ve been the only Black student. I’ve debated the intricacies of black feminisms and unearthed facets of my own experiences that I’d rather forget, not because I am brave, I am far from it, but because I did not have any other choice.
Although some things have changed, it is important to remember that some things are very much the same. I’ve watched the world shift in response to the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Meagan Hockaday, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Aiyana Jones, Atatianna Jefferson, George Floyd, Rekia Boyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more at the hand of police brutality; which is a direct result of the rampant racism, historic systemic oppression, injustices, violence, and cruelty that has not only plagued Black people for hundreds of years but also lies at the core of our culture.
I’m writing this now because I cannot continue to advocate on behalf of my community when I won’t advocate for myself. I am fortunate to have an immense amount of privilege that has provided me with resources, experiences, opportunities, and a sense of safety that has brought me to where I am today. I have a voice and I fully intend to use it. If you haven’t, reach out to your Black friends. Make sure they’re doing ok and be genuine in the process or don’t bother. The Black community is not a monolith. There is a vast array of beautiful diversity and differences within it and it is not your Black friend’s job to educate you on all of it. It is entirely your responsibility to cultivate a sense of anti-racism and educate yourself, and in this modern age, it has never been easier to do so.
To start, have those difficult discussions, be introspective, support black-owned businesses and artists, sign petitions, diversify your feed, and donate if you can. There’s a multitude of ways to get involved and absolutely no room for excuses. The discomfort you might feel in doing so is a sign of growth. It is a good thing and it pales in comparison to the sheer discomfort and fear that comes with occupying a black body in the United States. Speak and stand up for Black people in every space you find yourself in. Step back to amplify Black voices. Step up and stand with Black people today and every day.
Our lives matter, they always have.
Cameron Gordon is a recent graduate of Tulane University where she received a BA in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Communications. Through her studies, she was provided the tools for crafting a critical intersectional feminist lens for viewing the world around her and those who inhabit it – and she intends to use it. Cameron currently resides in New Orleans and is working towards carving out a career path in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging space. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, photography, antiquing, and playing with her dog Miss Mabel.