I consider myself an anomaly. Inside me, I carry the DNA of four hundred years of pain, oppression, perseverance, and strength. My ancestors came from Nigeria and Cameroon. I don’t know any of them beyond my maternal great-grandmother. None of my immediate ancestors lived long enough for me to ask deeper questions about where we came from and what we experienced in this country. I mourn that loss every day of my life.
What I did see was my grandparents and parents struggle to make a life for us through the systemic racism in this country. Oppression led to addiction, abuse, depression, anger, and other maladies that hindered them from living long, healthy lives. My mother died at forty-nine, a result of prescription drug abuse, due to the pain and stress she suffered from poor health due to stomach ulcers. My father died at fifty-one, from liver cancer brought on by years of alcohol abuse.
As a child, I used to listen to his stories about seeing his brother die accidentally by hanging himself while they were playing in their basement. He would cry telling me about how he felt like he failed his siblings by not helping to keep them safe. He told me the story about having to identify the decomposed body of his brother who was found beaten to death in a sewer because he was gay. I’m a carrier of my parents’ pain and depression and I wonder if I will die an early death too because of the inherited trauma that I carry in my DNA.
Because both of my parents witnessed so much failure and sadness in their lives, they impressed upon my siblings and I the importance of success, of becoming more than what this world tells us we should be. They wanted us to get good grades, to strive for more than just making it, to live lives free of strife and suffering. As the middle child, I tried to live by this example, to let my intelligence and drive get me the attention that I craved.
I was an overachiever almost from birth. I came into this world fighting, as a premature baby, born three months early, and severely underdeveloped. My early years were spent in and out of the hospital dealing with issues from my premature birth. I had asthma from underdeveloped lungs. I had allergies from not having any sinuses. I learned to read at three years old and my quest for knowledge never stopped. I read everything I could get my hands on and began to learn about Black history at an early age. I got good grades and consistently made the honor roll throughout elementary, middle, and high school.
Learning about the experience of Black Americans in this country opened my eyes to the way we are treated. I was able to earn a college scholarship to The Ohio State University, but I experienced racism there too. When I applied for a position in student government, I was told that I wasn’t good enough to be a part of the organization, despite serving as class president and on student government in high school for three years. It was a jarring experience for me and fueled my desire to be appreciated for my leadership skills. I majored in English and African American and African Studies. I learned more about the history of Black Americans in this country and the struggles that Blacks faced in this country and beyond.
We carry in us the pain and suffering of our ancestors who were enslaved, lynched, and murdered. We carry the generational post-traumatic stress syndrome of our grandparents and our parents. The pain of Black Americans still lingers today and is amplified by police killings, the school to prison pipeline, and economic disparities in our communities. There are trophies celebrating the mistreatment of Blacks including the confederate flag, statues honoring those who tortured, murdered, and owned slaves, and the maintenance and reverence of plantations.
It feels as if America reviles in the pain and suffering of Black Americans. There is an almost pornographic interest in Black pain and suffering. Blacks are constantly reminded in this country of how little they are valued by society as a whole. The judicial system jails Black Americans at a higher rate than Whites and they are twice as likely to be given stiffer prison sentences for minor offenses. Black mothers are more likely to die from childbirth and complications of childbirth than any other ethnic group in the country.
This stems from access to quality prenatal care and medical racism in the healthcare system. Black Americans are twice as likely to be denied medication for pain due to a false belief that we can tolerate higher levels of pain. We also have the highest infant mortality rate. Our babies cannot even thrive due to the generational trauma we have experienced.
America is the only place in the world that refuses to atone for the crimes it has committed against Black Americans. Survivors of the Holocaust are treated with reverence and respect. They were paid reparations. When the subject of reparations for descendants of Black slaves comes up, we are told to get over what happened. The denial of the pain and oppression that Black Americans have experienced is criminal.
America continues to profit from the pain and suffering of Black Americans. Slavery gave birth to capitalism in this country, and through low paying jobs, it is our labor that enables it to thrive. When Black Americans ask for change, we get changes that don’t affect us. We ask for law enforcement officers to be indicted for murders they are clearly guilty of, and we get racist icons on pancake syrup and rice eliminated in return.
When we show up to raise our voices and protest, we are called terrorists and thugs, and law enforcement shows up in riot gear to shoot rubber bullets and antagonize us. When White Americans show up to protest, with guns, and American flags, they get cops on bicycles who try to calm them like daycare teachers.
America will break its own back rather than change its racist ways, and that is a tragedy all by itself. Black Americans just want to be heard, seen, and valued. We are not disposable. Without the labor we provided for free, America would not be what it is. All we require is that America own up to its atrocities, to acknowledge its wrongs and right them. Until that happens, we carry that pain and legacy on exhausted shoulders and backs. It visits us again with the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed Black Americans at an alarmingly disproportionate rate. We suffer again and it falls on deaf ears, again.
There is no compassion from those who run the country. We have been left to fend for ourselves. We’re not asking for much. We just want to be able to live our lives peacefully and not be massacred just for living. How difficult is that to give? We don’t want to be in control of this country. We just want to be treated equally and seen as human.
America needs to check its heart. If we want to be as great a country as we aspire to be, we need to stop the hatred and oppression. We need to acknowledge that America’s greatest strength lies in its diversity. It’s what makes us strong. Diversity is what makes America great and White supremacy cheapens it. We all offer something great for this country and real success will come if we all work together. Division only depreciates it.
Until America can view Black Americans as human and worthy of living good lives, we will continue to carry our painful legacy and our future generations will suffer the same burden. We are worthy of the same lives that White Americans live and we are tired of telling you about it. We are tired of dying. We are tired of suffering. We are tired of not being heard.
This burden is becoming impossible to keep carrying. It’s killing us. It’s time for you to listen to us. It’s time for you to stop the cycle. We’ve done all we can. The rest is up to you. We can’t live under the veil anymore. It’s time to write the wrongs and it’s time for us all to heal and thrive, together. The future of this country is at stake.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/from-the-eyes-of-a-black-woman/