• Black • Adjective
- of the very darkest color owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white
- of any human group having dark-colored skin, especially of African or Australian Aboriginal ancestry
My first understanding of blackness came from the Ivory Coast. There, I was taught that my black skin is radiance that serves as protection from the sun’s harsh rays. As a child, I understood how alluring black skin was and is, as it glows and shines as light is reflected from it.
But what does it mean to be black in America?
My first week of third grade, my teacher counted by 2’s and paired me with a white male to work as partners on our writing assignment. Immediately, he ejected the proposal and blurted ” I DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH HER BECAUSE SHE’S DARK, DARK…DARK. My reaction? Pure confusion. I thought to myself, I am dark, but what does that have to do with the assignment?
Double consciousness, a term coined in W.E.B Dubois 1903 publication, “The Souls of Black Folk” describes the psychological challenge of “always looking at one’s self through the “eyes” of a racist white society. Double consciousness is walking into a grocery store with both hands in your pocket, and remembering that as a black person, society stereotypes you as a threat so you quickly take your hands out of your pockets to avoid any repercussions. Double consciousness is standing in line at a coffee shop behind a white person and leaving plenty room between yourself and the individual because you understand that your blackness makes others uncomfortable. Double consciousness is getting pulled over for failure to signal and keeping your hands on the dashboard for the duration of your encounter with an officer because you’re aware that people who look just like you get shot and killed for reaching for their wallet. Sadly, this critical concept may be the determining factor between life or death.
34-year-old, Lolade Siyonbola, a black graduate student at Yale university took a nap in her dorm’s common room and in consequence, a white student called the police on her. While double consciousness may sometimes serve as a shield from white oppression, never in a million years would I conclude that sleeping while black could be a potential threat. Lolade Siyonbola warrants the right of occupying space on Yale university’s common room as she is a deserving student who pays her tuition.
These incidents remind us that a lot of work still has to be done nationally. How would you react if you saw Siyonbola asleep in the common room? Does one’s blackness make you uncomfortable? if so, why?
Image from: http://www.socialist.ca/node/3010