I Shouldn't Have to Hide Parts of Myself to Appease White People

by Priscilla Ward for Salon I met my new roommates on Craigslist. Two white, one Chinese. Togeth...

by Priscilla Ward for Salon

I met my new roommates on Craigslist. Two white, one Chinese. Together we represented Portland, Florida, China and (with me) D.C., and as we moved into our apartment in Bed-Stuy last fall, I was excited for the potential of cross-cultural exchange.

We had a get-to-know you powwow on the rooftop. We talked about ourselves, what brought us to New York. It was a warm evening in September, a couple of weeks after Michael Brown was shot, and somewhere in the mix I brought up Ferguson, hoping to spark a “conscious conversation.” Then it happened. The nightmarish response.
“What’s happening in Ferguson?” one of my white roommates asked. “I heard some kid got shot or something like that.”

The words clamored in my ears. How could he not know? Weren’t his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds flooded with opinions and hashtags? I’m sure he meant nothing by his statement. We’re all ill-informed from time to time. But as I stood there, awkwardly not saying a word — while hundreds of words ran through my head — it was a reminder of how much I would have to suppress in order to get along with my white male roommates in our tiny four-bedroom apartment. This place I would call my home for a year.

It hasn’t always been like this for me. I’m a girl with a fro, raised in the place once known as “Chocolate City.” I grew up part of a black nuclear family, was home-schooled, then became part of of the mini-Historic Black College Experience at Temple University. After arriving in New York, I became an intern at Essence, a magazine so safe I likened my boss to an aunt. Those settings were as comfortable as my grandma’s cooking on any given Sunday.

I longed to crawl back to my tiny black universe. A place where I could create a sense of peace, identity and acceptance, a place where I could sit there, trying to untangle my fro and make sense of what it means to be an African-American woman in this country, rehashing our history while facing present pain. But life happens, and most of us can’t stay in our own utopias forever.

Now I faced a new reality. The brief conversation on the roof that hot September night lasted much longer in my head. I sent myself into a 200-year-old tizzy, reckoning with outdated ideas on race, tampering with prejudice and stereotypes. I became enslaved by my emotions.

Photo: Shutterstock

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