Alafia is a recent college graduate trying to find her footing in a pandemic and post-grad life. She’s passionate about social justice and creativity; you can find her on Instagram here: @alafiadeleke
I am a 22 year-old black woman. I can only speak for myself because the black community is much too diverse and multifaceted for me to be the spokesperson. However, I think sharing my heart is important, so here I am.
One of the most frustrating things I’ve heard this past month is this “Why is this happening now? How did one incident of police brutality turn into a conversation about slavery?” If I look at the events of the past month in the most surface-level way, I can understand that thought process. However, I don’t have the privilege to only look at this moment in time with a surface level perspective. The protests against police brutality have garnered a lot of attention, but police brutality is really only the tip of the iceberg. America has had this problem since the very beginning.
Instead of taking you through America’s history of white supremacy, I’m going to give you some snippets of my personal encounters with white supremacy, which I’m defining as the belief that white people are superior to other races and that whiteness is considered the standard. My family immigrated to the US from Nigeria in the 90s. I was born in Georgia a few years later. For all of my K-12 education, I lived and went to school in a white, fairly affluent area. Growing up, the majority of my friends were white, and thus, I grew to understand whiteness as goodness.
I remember being eight years-old talking with my friends outside on a windy day. A gust of wind blew, and my friends’ hair got tangled by the wind. The kinky texture of my hair kept it in place. One of my friends exclaimed, “Whoa, that’s so weird! Why doesn’t your hair move in the wind?” I remember feeling so embarrassed about being different from them that I tried to change the subject.
In seventh grade, I remember being in my social studies class when somehow, the topic of the N word came up. At this point, I was so young that I didn’t even know what the N word was yet. Instead of simply explaining why it was wrong for a class of 20 white kids to use that word, my white teacher singled me out and asked me in front of the entire class what I thought about the usage of the word. At that moment, I felt extremely uncomfortable, but I didn’t have the maturity or life experience to understand why.
Throughout high school, I was in gifted and AP classes. Unsurprisingly, especially at a school with predominantly white students, I was one of maybe 3 black students in all of those advanced classes. Even though I didn’t have the words or the confidence to explain it at the time, I always felt pressure to be one of the smartest kids in those classes, not because I was worried about getting into a good college, but because I felt the pressure to represent my entire race with my academic performance.
During my junior year, a white girl in one of my classes said the N word and tried to dismiss it as a joke the second she saw my reaction. At another point that year, a white guy in the same class pretended to whip one of my black friends and played a whip sound effect from his phone to accompany the act. The same guy pretended to hang her from a tree at a party that I didn’t attend.
When I was a senior in high school and got into college with early admission, a white girl who got deferred from the same school told me with bitterness, “it was easier for you to get in” despite the fact that I had a higher GPA and test scores than she did.
All of these examples from my childhood were examples of both subtle and overt racism. Throughout my childhood, I received messages from school, friends, and media that whiteness and the things associated with it were desirable and that blackness was something to be ashamed of. I received messages that my hair was something to be ashamed about, that nobody wanted to date people with my skintone, and that black people were lazy, ghetto, and dangerous.
As happy as I am that the Black Lives Matter movement has gained so much traction this past month, I feel equally frustrated by it. The examples of racism that I mentioned from my childhood thankfully were not lethal, but the subconscious attitudes of white supremacy that motivated all of those incidents can have fatal implications for black people. Even on a micro level, this felt like a long time coming. Everything that has been going on in this country the past month is a result of America’s history of racism coming to a boiling point.
Thankfully, I was able to realize how much internalized racism I had towards myself, and I started the process of unlearning it as soon as I got to college. But with that awakening and new knowledge also came the realization that so many people were unaware of how deeply pervasive racism is in society. Not just in America, but all over the world.
Because of how deeply rooted this problem is, it’s important to recognize that the protests and the workplace changes and the news coverage are so much more than this moment. This is a movement.
We need to let go of wanting to go back to normal because normal was never good. It was normal for cops to murder black people with no consequences. It was normal for black employees to do more work than their white colleagues and get paid less than them. It was normal for black kids to grow up with internalized racism and self-hatred. Normal was not cutting it, and we need to accept that and move on.
We need to bravely push forward and make a future that is better for everyone, not just people in positions of privilege. My hope for this time that we’re in is that we fully take in everything happening around us and don’t let it go to waste. That we don’t let the trauma and the deaths that have happened be for nothing. I hope our society will collectively decide that enough is enough and finally make the changes that are so desperately needed. All of us need to be a part of that change. In 50 years, when we look back on history, I will be on the right of this movement. I hope you can join me and say the same.