I lived the first ten years of my life where blackness was the norm. To be black was to be in the majority. Every millionaire, government official, and CEO I knew was black. Every last person in my world who was doing something worthwhile was black. Blackness was the norm. I knew my skin was a deep shade of brown and it deepened in the sun, but it did not feel like a crime to be black. It never occurred to me that I could not be anything my mind dreamt up because of the color of my skin.
The first time I realized my skin was a problem (for others, not me) was when a classmate who was also black told me I was not black like the others in our class – no, I was purple. After that, I was an “African booty scratcher” (whatever that meant or means). Then I was the girl who would “do voodoo on you” if you got too close. My introduction into the American system of education and daily life reminded me constantly that I did not belong here. My hair was wrong. My skin was wrong. My clothes were wrong. My name was convoluted, and on and on the list of transgressions grew. From the age of ten till seventeen, when I went off to college, I was grappling with what it meant to be black in America.
I have had to keep my race in mind pretty much since the day I arrived on US soil and realized everyone around me was not black. I am overly reverential to police officers and law enforcement in all our interactions (while I’m driving, in my community or in my home) to make sure they see that I am not a threat. I still get a lump in my throat when a police car pulls up behind me but I hope with each interaction that my law degree and education (and the expertise they’ve afforded me on how to navigate the world) provides enough shield to get me home safely to my family.
I miss the freedom of being a Lagos girl who did not have to think about her skin and anticipate what people would be thinking of her when she steps into rooms at school, at work, in court, behind the wheel, or on public platforms. I breathe differently in Nigeria because despite the deep-seethed issues of colonialism in Nigeria, I never felt like I had a target on my back because of my skin color.
So, to my skin-folk (black people all over the diaspora), our skin is not a crime. Being black is not synonymous with being suspicious or being “criminal,” no matter what the neighbors on your NextDoor app happen to think (“suspicious activity – 3 African American teens seen walking in the neighborhood”). Your skin is not something people need to “look past” or be “colorblind” to. God created us in His image so our melanin is purposeful and worth celebrating. Celebrating our culture is not synonymous with “playing the race card” or “making everything about race.” We have a godly heritage in the Lord and He rejoices in our full expression, our joy, our creativity as a people – even in the midst of a world who would rather we just ‘shut up’ about being black because all lives matter.
Your skin is not a crime and your blackness is not a sin. God delights in us. We bear His image and we display His glory.
Embracing your God-given dignity and worth in a world that is hell-bent on “keeping you in your place” is a revolutionary act. With all godliness and grace I bid you to “fight the power.”
Yours in Christ,