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I’m so tired of society telling me what it means to be black

As a black member of society, the truth of the past few months weighs heavily on me, but I need to speak up and out — for myself, my little boys, my family members, my friends and my black community.

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Hearing first about Alton Sterling, then the next day Philando Castile, made my heart and soul hurt. I can’t formulate the words, or maybe there are no words to really describe what I’m feeling.

But I do know that although I am a light-skinned black woman, I am still black. My dad is black, and my mom is Cherokee, so I know what it means to be a minority. Two of my siblings can fit in and maybe even almost pass better than the other two. My husband is Hispanic, of Puerto Rican heritage, but until I married, I dated black men or mixed-race men. That is because I love black people, my family and myself. Yet I’ve also always fought with hating my differences and myself.

I’m tired of having to explain to people I’m black, too. I’m saddened by the injustices my dad and other family members have faced because they are black. It hurts that I can somehow get a leg up on my fellow black people because my skin is lighter, my hair isn’t classically black, and, now, because my husband is Hispanic and my children are light-skinned.

In our country, being black means being stereotyped as listening to hip-hop and R & B and wearing clothes that are designed to make us look bad and aren’t made for our bodies. It presumes we must be loud, speak and act ignorantly, go to church, and so much more that has nothing to do with who we are.

I hate that sometimes I want to be different and better than but also that I don’t want to be different and better than, and too often, others approach me and expect me to be. I loathe that this reality even exists within me. I hate that my heritage, skin color, hair texture and communication are such dividers, even among my fellow black people. I hate all the hate. And I loathe all the injustice that has been going on for far longer than most people realize. I hate that someone else is always determining for me what it means to be black.

We are a loving people even as historically we’re painted as mean, hateful, dangerous and violent. We don’t want to suffer more pain, sadness and despair, as we try to fight injustices pushed upon us. How can we rally to fight injustice because we’ve been told to fear one another? We’ve been told lies about who we are and what we represent. We have to come out against the forces that tell us who we are, where we’re from, what to listen to, what to watch, what to learn, where to go, what to eat, how to behave and how to live.

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There are so many injustices against black people it’s almost hard to comprehend, even if you are a black person. The layers upon layers of injustice go so deep and run so strongly they can be difficult to find and to name. But in light of the recent tragedies against the black community, it’s clear that though there is a time and a place for anger, it’s time to choose to act versus react. I am suggesting that we decide to put all our effort into caring, not just for ourselves as individuals but for our families, neighbors and ourselves as a people.

Once we all start to care and stop meeting tragedies and injustice with reaction, we can do something. We can stand up and speak out collectively. We can work together and enforce change. We can say, “We know who we are, and we will not tolerate this any longer.” Pockets of activism won’t cut it. Being safe and speaking in loud yet hushed tones isn’t going to get anything done. And hating ourselves only makes us weaker.

So decide. Decide today. Decide for yourself, for your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather. Decide for your neighbor and your co-worker, your friend, your foe and your people.

Decide to stand up and speak out.

Decide to know yourself and your people. And that way, we can all move forward.

We can all decide to do something and become a real force because we’ll be able to stand in solidarity and peace, in love and anger, in sadness and pain, in grief and understanding.

We’ll change the way things are. We’ll fight the injustice, and we’ll all be better for it.

“Look at me. I’m here. I have dignity. I have pride. I have roots. I insist. I demand that I participate in those decisions that affect my life and the lives of my children. It means that I am somebody.” — Whitney M. Young

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