On The Gains Black Women Have Made And The Work We Still Must Do

Tiffanie Drayton | January 18, 2016 - 12:00 pm

As a 26-year-old, college-educated Black woman, the day that commemorates Martin Luther King Jr., or any other Civil Rights leader, has special significance to me. I am a direct beneficiary of the sacrifices made by Black women and men to secure rights for minority people in the United States of America; my education and career the result of their fight and dreams.

I am incredibly proud that Black women, like myself, have not squandered the opportunities won by Civil Rights leaders. The demographic, of which I am proudly a part, has committed itself to personal, professional and community development– to beat out all other demographics in overall college enrollment trends, launch social movements, enter into various fields from which we were once barred from participation, head Fortune 500 companies  and especially demand visibility for ourselves and further push for representation from greater society. Like many other Black women, I made that commitment despite coming from very little.

My mother arrived to the United States of America as a Caribbean immigrant, struggling to escape an abusive relationship. She was a live-in nanny for years before she put herself through nursing school, despite overt racism that threatened her progress at the internally segregated institution through which she matriculated. With access to more substantial finances as a nurse, my mother travelled from coast to coast seeking the best possible educational opportunities for her children. We encountered constant racism. Drove through areas where Confederate flags were displayed in every window; on every moving vehicle, and our innocent smiles were met with cold, degrading stares. Literally fought for the right to sustain an identity that incorporated my island roots, “Yankee” sensibilities and blackness. Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

For this reason, precisely, I understand the United States of America and its race relations from a unique perspective. I understand America’s racism in a way only a Black person can. In a way only a woman raised in a single parent, immigrant household can. In a way that only someone who has seen the extent of the country’s backwardness– it’s virulent racism and violent ignorance– can.

I am uniquely positioned, in this moment of time and history, to speak to the experiences with racism I have had in this country that have threatened not only my physical well being, but my psychological and emotional stability. I write about these experiences not to make White folk feel guilty, but because I must. The dignity of future Black little girls and boys depends on the honesty of Black people given the opportunity to speak, because of the sacrifices of so many, including Martin Luther King Jr.

I write about living in a Jersey City neighborhood with a prominent center dedicated to “Write to Lifers,” because I must give account of the viscousness of mass incarceration that has stolen the lives of many Black men and women for profit and political gain.

I write about the constant sexual harassment I faced as a child and the lack of positive media representations of Black women, because Black women suffer from the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases and violence.

I write about feminism’s failed intersectionality, because it never provided me the guidance and support I needed as a Black girl or women and only created expectations of society that only White women may lay claim to.

I write about my attendance at integrated schools, which internally reproduced segregation by forcing black children into remedial classes while their White peers were bound on the college track; About the subversive nature of racism in white liberal universities (), because America’s education is failing children and young adults of color.

I write about the pain I feel while I watch White people cyclically appropriate the cultural property of black people with no regard for our struggle or history, because that cycle seems never ending.

I write about white fear and violence — like the shooting at Charleston Church that claimed 9 innocent Black lives in their place of worship— to forewarn Black people of the dangers to come, represented by today’s Republican politics that have given voice and support to hate rhetoric and claims that “we should make America great again”, despite the reality that going back in time for any Black person in this country would instantaneously negate their personhood.

I write about fearing for the life of my partner — because he is Black — after reading reports that a young man was shot and killed by police in a Walmart, while speaking on the phone to his girlfriend, for walking around with a toy gun, because the collective fear and pain that we, as Black people feel, as we watch another innocent life claimed can only be soothed by the solidarity created by acknowledging those feelings.

I continue to write about reconciliation of these race issues, despite the fact that I have grown to understand that many simply do not care to understand and cognitive dissonance will force them to reject my words; even if in doing so they are dismissing my humanity.

I wish I awoke to the day where I no longer needed to write. Or where my writing would not brand me as “angry” merely because it speaks the truth about the conditions in which I was raised or the realities that I face as a Black woman every single day.

Instead, even my dreams are haunted by the fear that things will never change. That this struggle is enduring and I will lose, friends, family, neighbors and supporters in the chaos of it. Only a few nights ago, I had a dream where a beautiful young Black man with dreadlocks lay lifeless, his body mangled in front of a convenience store, blood running from the bullet wounds that pierced his skull. Women and children ran about screaming. I stood lifeless.

A few months ago, I had a dream that a little Black boy told me he did not want to go to school anymore, because two children were gunned down in front of their school while walking home.

I had a dream that police pulled me over in a car full of friends and I was only redeemed by the tears of my White girlfriend whose pleas and demands for grace were met with placations.

My dreams have become mere replications of my reality; limited by racism, intruded on by inequality. And in that way, I constantly feel like a failure.

As proud as I am to be a Black woman, to relish in the victories of our foremothers and forefathers, inspired by the hopes and dreams of my predecessors, I am sometimes disappointed in myself for failing to believe in a dream of better for tomorrow.

I am tired of dreams; all dreamed out.

Instead, all I have is my story– my truth, my reality. A reality that begs for change, accountability and collective betterment. And a story that will bare honest testimony to the great America that consistently refuses to concede to a great dream of equality.