Written by Dynasty Ceasar, Racial Justice Trainer, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
There’s something undoubtedly powerful about the use of the word “I”. Saying “I” enforces power over what is being said and how a person wants to be viewed. Using it layers every syllable and message conveyed through punctuation thereafter with an incredible amount of responsibility to oneself.
“I” is a proclamation of identity.
Yet, many African Americans cannot use this word without being taxed with an obligation to positively represent the entire race. The “m” in me and the “w” in we seem to be interchangeable when Black people speak for themselves as they’re often assumed to be speaking for all Black Americans.
Using “we” is also in part, representative of our identity as being residents of this nation. Our American nationality consistently overshadows the systemic victimization of African Americans and emphasizes the very systems that oppress us and other people of color as nationally celebrated “victories.”
The fruits of the “American Dream” derived from forced labor and was fertilized by the hands of Black American ancestors whose children have yet to systemically reap the benefits of it, and still bear their captors’ name as Americans.
As we enter the third week of Black History Month or African American Heritage Month, I’d like to invite you to take a closer look at the Black leaders before us and those of the present day. Take note of their message and their vision of what Black deliverance means for them.
You may find that the Black leaders of our time have vastly different ideas and approaches to the liberation of Black people.
Let this be a testament to the different individual experiences that Black people have and influence an increase in our capacity to appreciate uniqueness in individual perspective on justice.
Let the “I” be singular when a Black person close to you tells their story. Though the “I” is at the center of Afr “I”can Amer “I”can and has shaped that individual’s perspective on race and racism, it is not the full extent of the experience for the whole race.
Seeing one story as the whole story often causes organizations and close friends to unexpectedly use one Black person’s story as means to discredit another Black person’s perspective on liberation or what is offensive. It is comparable to a child asking one parent for permission for something, being denied, and then going to the other parent and being given permission to proceed.
So, as we celebrate Black History Month or African American Heritage Month, take time to celebrate the individual histories that your Black relatives, friends, and co-workers have had, but don’t forget to create space in your heart for those of others.
The collection of our individual histories, experiences, and perspectives on liberation, will ultimately be the forces that deliver us from oppressive systems. As we transition into a more equitable society, we must understand that all Black people and people of color do not have equal experiences with racism, and therefore, a one size fits all approach to the challenges of racism is ineffective.
Acknowledgement of an individual’s experience is acknowledgement of humanity and the intricacies of human life.
Though our country is a melting pot, I ask that we melt not the experiences of the Black American, for each story is unique and exceptional in its own regard.
The collection of our stories is not to be viewed as one thought, one voice, one call to liberation, but an illumination of the depths of the whole.