By Kamron Taylor, as told to Jennifer Clopton
The protests and uprisings spreading across our country right now in the wake of the death of George Floyd have left me, a young black woman, raw, emotional and introspective in ways I have never been before.
For all of my 27 years, I’ve ‘played the game’ and worked to fit myself into a system that doesn’t often seem to see or appreciate my value and humanity. I’m done doing that. I no longer feel like I can or want to wear a mask. I’ve spent my whole life trying to make other people comfortable, and I’m not going to do that anymore. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t serve anyone. I’d rather honestly share my story and perspective for anyone who wants to listen, learn, and be a better ally.
I grew up in a financially privileged family, and I spent all of my childhood in predominantly white spaces in Maryland, Ohio, and Missouri. My family and I were almost always the only black people in the room and frequently some of the few people of color around. So growing up, while my parents communicated my humanity and worthiness to me, I certainly wasn’t told I was worthy as a black person by other people – directly or indirectly – and it was not demonstrated outwardly in society either.
The message I got from society was that my views about race, and what we needed from white people in order to promote a more equitable society, were radical and extreme. It happened time and again, sometimes the message was subtle – other times it was blatant.
When I first transferred to a new public school in an Ohio suburb, there was confusion on the first day when I started to get on the bus to my affluent neighborhood. The teachers felt sure I was getting on the wrong bus and tried to steer me to the one that went to the far less wealthy part of town.
When my oldest brother was on a date with a white woman as a college freshman, he was arrested because police said he fit the profile of a suspect they were looking for, when he didn’t actually fit the description at all.
My family loves to play golf, and when I was a teenager, a woman on a course called management to complain about my outfit saying it wasn’t appropriate and asking that I be removed.
When my father’s friend moved into a wealthy neighborhood, one of the first things he did was visit the local police station with his son so officers would know who they were if they saw them walking, jogging or driving near their home.
As one of the few black girls at my school, white boys at school never once asked me to a dance. I always went with black friends from outside school. It was never said directly but the undertone was always clear – we can’t date you because you’re black.
Everything changed for me when I went to Spelman College – a historically black college for women in Atlanta. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded entirely by other black and brown students. Without race as the main differentiator in my life, I was able to explore other parts of my identity for the first time. It was amazing and rewarding to get the opportunity to focus on who I really was.
Then I graduated and entered the working world, and once again, race became a major defining factor in my life. I have worked in many wonderful places, but I have also experienced incredible amounts of unconscious bias, microaggressions, overt racism, and too many uncomfortable conversations to count.
I often feel fear for myself and those I love, ranging from worry about being the spokesperson on black issues to concern that we’ll be fired for making people uncomfortable when we speak out about anything ranging from overt racism to a subtle microaggression. Every single day – of my entire life – I worry about the black men I love. When my two brothers and father head out – whether to school, work or even a simple errand – I fear for their safety. What if there’s a misunderstanding? We’ve seen, so many times, what can happen to innocent black men while they’re simply going about their lives.
The pressure of all of this – day in and day out – is more than you can imagine if it’s not something you live with.
As I talk with my black friends and family, I’m realizing that many of us didn’t even realize the intensity of these long-held traumas we’ve been carrying inside of us until these current events started unfolding and brought them up to the surface. The incredible amount of stress, heartache, and pain that comes from watching unceasing violence, racism, and injustice against others for the one thing you have in common with them – the color of their skin. The emotional toll that mounts each time we watch another innocent person killed – kneed to death by police or gunned down while jogging or simply sitting in their own home – because like us, they are black.
We need to talk about this trauma caused by racism in the same way we talk about other forms of physical and emotional stress. In my case, I’ve come to see that I am carrying generational trauma. I know that healing will be a long process.
For now, given that all of this is happening as life is upside down from the pandemic, I’m still figuring out how I will live differently going forward. I trust that I will figure out who I want to be when I emerge from the COVID-19 restrictions. I already know that I will focus more seriously on self-compassion and managing my own stress. I have pledged to focus, through my work, on representation of more people of color in mainstream spaces. I also know I will be more vocal than ever about speaking up any time I feel my humanity – or the humanity of any other people of color – is targeted or in danger.
Being black in America is hard. But even so, it’s important to stress that there is no one black experience any more than there is one white experience. Black and brown people are often lumped together as a group, but we are so much more than the color of our skin. We, also, are not a monolith.
So hearing my story means you have only heard my story. If you are bothered by what is happening in the world, seek out the experiences of other black people shared in books, podcasts and online. Look at who you and your children spend time with. If it’s not a diverse group, find ways to hang out with people who are different than you. Sharing a hashtag, walking in a protest, or taking part in a social media blackout is nice – but practicing activism in your own life is far more meaningful.
So stand up for injustice and call out racism when you see it. Say you won’t tolerate that behavior – even if it comes from your grandmother or your boss. Speak up if someone at work says something that reflects privilege, unconscious bias, or overt racism. Investigate your own privilege. Give money to organizations that work to end violence against black people. Support black owned businesses. Vote for legislators that not only support but demand justice. And understand that all of this is likely to make you uncomfortable. Do it anyway.
Kamron Taylor is a content strategy manager for WebMD who is committed to making sure that diverse images are seen online in mainstream media. She is based in Atlanta. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.