Usually, when I consider my response to this question, I tend to think about it from a very individualistic point of view. I think of colorful adjectives, nouns, and verbs that best represent the core of who I am, what I desire most in the world, what excites me, and how I go about achieving goals that are important to me. After all, ‘Who am I?’ seems like a deeply personal question that can only involve an independent understanding of myself, right? Perhaps. But even as an individual, I exist within a world of systems, structures, and historical realities that have worked together to shape who I am today and who I wish to become tomorrow. In the summer of 2012, I explored this question from this very lens, pondering who I am from a socially contextualized standpoint. I often return to this reflection as a stirring reminder of who I am, what I represent, why my voice matters, and why I make the choices I make:
“I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement as a result of immoral procedures and practices that have disproportionately impacted people of color in the United States. The challenge of being a black woman in America transcends physical markers of racial categorization. It is an ongoing battle to deconstruct, critically challenge, and publicly combat socialized norms that place black womanhood at the base of a vertical hierarchy. What does it mean to be an African American woman? Better yet, what does it mean to be historically delimited, demarcated, despised, and repudiated by the decided majority? It means constantly seeking alternative avenues to acquire knowledge, to be mindful of where and how you receive acceptance and affirmation, to resist fervently oppressive structures, and to have an unshakable commitment to humanity that is informed by an ongoing struggle to attain equality for all. This is but a snapshot of what being an African American woman symbolizes to me.”
While this excerpt does not capture the full essence of who I am, my unique combination of qualities, my lived experiences, and my inner desires, it absolutely captures those aspects of me that often take center stage even as they remain unspoken cues, signaling to the dominant culture that my mere presence warrants suspicion, tension, or angst. I cannot count the number of times my presence has been dismissed, ignored, or reduced to someone else’s one-dimensional interpretation of me before I ever had the chance to open my mouth. To be the lone African American, the designated ‘spokesperson,’ the dissident voice, or the radical visionary is to continually enter spaces where my uniqueness, my humanness is overshadowed by the hegemonic gaze.
I am a growing list of paradoxical truths where my past, present, and visions of a brighter future converge to create a relentless, resilient, community-oriented, open, caring, critically conscious, loving, passionate, authentic, vulnerable, exacting, playful, energetic, spiritual, analytical, freedom-seeking, creative, sensitive, hopeful, compassionate, honest, writer, poet, dreamer, conversationalist who is undeniably brown, undeniably woman, and unapologetically me.
I am trudging paved paths of my predecessors’ past, taking each step with a purpose that is greater than my individual achievement. I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement. We are still fighting for our rights…we are still fighting for equity.