I lay in bed anticipating my evening plans of grabbing dinner and going for a walk on a warm spring evening in D.C. when I received the Axios notification about the shooting at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, NY. Mass shootings have become a common occurrence in America. However, this one stood out to me, as Axios reported that the white gunman drove hours away from his home to carry out the attack in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The news was hurtful, but not surprising. Black people have experienced violence in their own homes, places of worship and schools; a racist traveling a long distance just to murder us didn’t sound farfetched.
Later that evening, as I went on my walk, I could not help but hyper-fixate on my blackness. I was in Georgetown, a wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood that didn’t always welcome the city’s Black majority. I’ve been Black for 24 years and I know how people view me; I’ve mastered double consciousness. However, the anxiety that comes from living in a world where people despise you for existing or have an unfair perception of you can be overwhelming.
I’m not alone. In April, Buzzfeed published a listicle detailing the unspoken rules many Black people follow to ensure fair treatment and, in some cases, survival. From adjusting the tone of our voices while shopping to overtly proving that we are worthy of care in the ER, we must alter how we live to mitigate racist incidents. While I recognize and have adopted many of these habits, the fact that a list like this exists is exhausting. There is only so much self-policing one can take. Not to mention that even if I do what I’m “supposed to do,” I can’t stop a murderer from committing a hate crime.
Rather than focus on these unpleasant truths, I like to focus on Black people who rebelled against others’ expectations of what it means to be “Black,” those who didn’t follow the rules and those who didn’t let stereotypes and hatred from others deter them from accomplishing their goals. People like Marsha P. Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas, Issa Rae, Toni Morrison and countless others. I’ve won academic awards, traveled abroad, graduated from college and lived in my own apartment. If I had let fear of racism hold me back, I would not have achieved these accomplishments. I refuse to dress and act a certain way to be perceived as “acceptable” or “safe” and I am not going to hold myself back from opportunities out of fear of impending racism.
I want to inspire other African Americans to do what they truly want to do and to allow themselves to rebel against the restraints society has placed on us. You are beautiful, strong and important. You do not deserve to live a life tethered to fear of racism. So go forth and shed your restraints.