Vanessa Barksdale, ’17, Social Work, is the UMBC Student Government Association’s Assistant Director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.
[Cross-posted from To UMBC, For UMBC]
Can I be candid? Sometimes being adamantly and publicly pro-black is hard. Particularly when you’re supposed to be the one that has a snappy comeback for every single high profile and racialized incident having to do with Black people. Its almost impossible. The gravity, immensity, and depth of always addressing Black issues, speaking for “The Blacks,” or being “a Black” is exhausting, and I don’t want to do it. That’s not my job. But it is literally my paid job to speak up to social injustice, and I’m honored to do that.
Since I’m being candid, I have to acknowledge my that I am indeed human. I’m a human being with flesh and bones and eyes and ears and a weird taste in music and a large obsession with kale smoothies. I am a lot of things. I’m also proudly a Black woman, in every sense of that word. Down to my full lips, my broad nose, and my kinky curly hair. I am not naive to my history.
I am also not naive to the fact that my Jackson Five nostrils and full lips subconsciously communicate about me to strangers first, and the actual content of my words come second. I am not naive to the fact that people like me scare or aggravate some people before I ever get a chance to utter a word from my mouth. Just like my sisters and my brother and my cousins and my mother and my father.
And so I have to consider death, perhaps a lot more than someone who doesn’t look like me. I have to consider my perceived image a lot more. I don’t have the luxury of downloading anonymous apps where anyone can post their dislike for “niggers” or “those ghetto affirmative action babies,” and not feel personally attacked or vehemently paranoid or uncomfortable in a room of strangers. I don’t have the luxury of walking into a store and shopping alone without having the store owner watch my every footstep. I don’t have the luxury of turning on a TV and seeing the dead bodies of people who look nothing like me. No, I don’t get those things, and it’s damn exhausting.
The ability to pretend and oversimplify are simply luxuries; I don’t get either. Getting to say “All lives matter,” believe it or not, is a luxury. You don’t have to think about differences in racial experiences, or think about whether Black people are set apart, or if we actually aren’t a unified collective of people who all face the same problems indiscriminately, and if we really all are nonetheless valued. That would be cute. Instead, I have no choice but to assert that Black lives matter. I acknowledge the fact that we are not the same, and I fight for our ability to acknowledge that. I will fight for my right to be treated like I actually am nonetheless a valued person.
I’m not divisive for saying Black Lives Matter. Like it or not, divisions stemming from imaginary assumptions about one’s race have always existed. They’ve existed since the very conception of slavery. But until you recognize what is broken, you can’t fix it. Until we recognize that we are hurt, we will never get well. And I am not going to apologize for saying that this country is hurt and bleeding.
I am truly proud to be a UMBC Retriever. But I am also proud to be a Black Retriever, amidst proudly queer, straight, Muslim, Sikh, Israeli, Irani, and Dominican retrievers. I am proud of what I am and where I came from, amidst many Retrievers who feel the same about themselves.
But what is most profound, most unifying, most important, is that we are all Retrievers. Black issues affecting Retrievers aren’t just Black Retriever issues. They’re Retriever issues, significant to the whole of us. Exclusion, ignorance surrounding social justice issues, and the fostering of environments where the discussion of cultural differences is discouraged aren’t things that we can pass off as someone else’s problem anymore. They are our problems.
Amongst many different things, I will use my position to make sure Retrievers are educated on Black issues. Black Retrievers matter too much.
Contact the author, Vanessa Barksdale, at email@example.com.