Finding My Authentic Black Self

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

In 2008 I decided to take a year to inventory my life.

I think every Black person owes it to themselves to find their authentic Black self. You may not have encountered the types of experiences I revealed, or maybe you have. You may not think you need racial healing, but Harriett Tubman can say it better than I can, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

In 2008 I decided to take a year to inventory my life. It was during this journey that I came to the shocking realization that I had a strong desire to be white. As I deeply contemplated my childhood and youth I remembered the taunting that was thrown around in the all-treacherous schoolyard. Adult me sobbed for child me as I realized how the negative remarks regarding my dark brown complexion had led me to believe my skin was the wrong color. At the time I couldn't understand why I would receive this persecution from Black students, in my all Black elementary school. My innocent child mind somehow knew that we were supposed to be allies and not enemies. But my reality was the ache I carried in my soul as these taunts continued and ripped away at my self-esteem.

 As I encountered my middle years I attended a predominantly white school. While students there did not ridicule me because of the color of my skin, in this school I faced a new form of oppression from white teachers. I was unfairly singled out on many occasions for things that were overlooked when done by white students. These minor infractions included things such as chewing gum and talking in class during study time. But the penalties were riddled with unfair treatment as well. For instance, instead of having to engage a developmental activity such as a writing assignment, Black students who had to stay after school for detention in these scenarios were asked to do things like clean the bathrooms.

Of course my parents had no idea these things were going on, and that was because I hadn't told them. I feared that they wouldn't understand. And I don't know where that fear came from because my parents were actually my greatest supporters. Maybe I thought this was a bigger fish to fry than the Black school I had attended. Maybe I was trying to protect them from the racist machine that I encountered each day. So I would just show my parents the detention slip which they had to sign so I could return it to the teacher, and they would scold me for my behavior at school. Each time I had to give my parents a detention notice the more I felt like a disappointment. I knew what was happening at school was wrong, but because I didn't know how to express what I was experiencing on the inside, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

When it was finally time for me to attend high school, I begged my parents to place me in a public school. Quite frankly, I thought anything would be better than staying under the torment I faced each day at my current school and the disappointment I saw in my parents eyes each time I brought home another detention slip. And so I attended an all Black high school in a part of town I was not familiar with.

Entering the building on the first day of class I immediately realized I had made a grave mistake asking to go to a public school. First of all it was huge, but second of all with the exception of a few white teachers, everyone was Black and seemed to walk with a harsh demeanor, and smile with a grimace. While I only lived a neighborhood away, it was like I had landed on another planet.

It wasn't just the population but the lack of up to date resources that astonished me. I was given a textbook that had my brother's name written in it from when he went to the school some 17 years earlier. Seeing the disparities between my Black high school and the white school I had attended, I immediately made up my mind that this was not who I was going to be. No, I determined right then and there that I was going to be white. 

The various experiences in elementary, middle and high school were hurtful and in many ways confusing. In some regards I didn't fit in because I was too dark, in another scenario I was ridiculed for speaking proper English which most Black kids considered 'talking white'. It reminds me of a song by Drake entitled 'You & The 6', one of the lines says, "I used to get teased for being black, and now I am here and I am not black enough." That phrase from Drake could have been the banner for my teen years, it resonates deeply with that period of my life.

You would think that by 2008 these ideas of my fear-entrenched youth would be long gone. But during my life inventory, I realized as an adult that some of those concepts had lingered. The pain of internalized racism was still hovering over my life. I needed a plan. I needed a process. Something that would deliver me from this part of my past that was holding me hostage. I finally found a practice of racial healing that worked for me. It included consistent times of deep introspection, prayer, journal writing, tears, forgiveness and release.

Today, I am able to honor my truth, that I am a beautiful Black woman and I come from a long line of extraordinary Black people. But I didn't do it all alone. As Thurgood Marshall once said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, we got here because somebody......bent down and helped us pick up our boots". In addition to the personal practice of racial healing that I enacted, it also helped that I had a unique insider view into the life of a tremendous Black man who is very passionate about Black people. He also in a very profound way has enlightened me to the value of being and loving my authentic Black self. In fact, there are seven distinct ways I was enriched by this sage-activist and I want to share them with you here:

1) My sage attends a Black church that is one of the most "woke" congregations I have ever experienced. Being there changed my perspective of what church (and specifically Black church) could be.

2) The work that my sage spends his days pursuing is centered around making sure the voice of Black communities are heard in high government circles. It inspired me to be more intentional in my calling to be a voice for the overlooked and looked over.

3) I have watched and listened as my sage has mentored others and made connections for Black people (including me) and all of this on his own time. In this I see how he sincerely loves and cares for the well-being of Black people. I now pattern my mentoring strategy with students after this model.

4) Using his social media networks my sage uplifts the legacy or current accomplishments of Black people. And I have found that it has become a passionate practice for me to share information on my social media networks that keep people aware of the greatness of our people.

5) In our conversations I not only see and hear, but feel genuinely that my sage believes Black people are beautiful, that Black lives matter, and that Black people can achieve extraordinary things. As I became more authentic in myself, a genuine love for my people also blossomed inside of me. And now my life is committed to the empowerment of Black people.

6) The way my sage loves his children and grandchildren makes me weep with awe. It's such a profound love with great wisdom and encouragement. He took a page from Frederick Douglass' book who said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." While I don't have children I do seek to care deeply for my students, particularly the ones who do not have a strong family network. And I make sure they feel wanted and needed in the world.

7) And lastly, by revealing his life my sage helped me better understand the fear and pain that strong Black men carry. This has given me eyes to see beneath the strong exterior of our powerful Black men, honor the shoes they walk in, love them for the kings they are, and offer a fierce grace.

As you can see, being mentored in this way has been life changing for me, giving me a whole new perspective of myself by serving to remind me of who I was called to be in the world. You see, this wonderful sage that mentored me was not the first to do so. My father was the first one to give me a foundation course in "Black is Beautiful". In our house, the books on our shelves were unapologetically Black. The magazines and newspapers that were delivered to our door were from Black owned companies. The church we attended was a Black Baptist church. And the organizations my father supported and served, such as the NAACP, OIC and YMCA were all to better the lives of Black people.

I think every Black person owes it to themselves to find their authentic Black self. You may not have encountered the types of experiences I revealed, or maybe you have. You may not think you need racial healing, but Harriett Tubman can say it better than I can, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." The slavery of our day is not chattel slavery but mental slavery. Scholar, filmmaker, activist Alik Shahadah says, "Mental slavery is a state of mind where discerning between liberation and enslavement is twisted. Where one becomes trapped by misinformation about self and the world. So someone can claim to be conscious, they can read all the books, they can recycle the popular rhetoric but still be unable to balance real-world priorities and self interest." When you enact a practice of racial healing you will find that your life will become so much richer than you ever imagined. You will reclaim the fullness of who you were born to be in the world. And the light of your presence will make a new impact on humanity. 

Are you ready to really start living your life? Then you must pick up the broken pieces that internalized racism has strewn across your heart, destroy them piece-by-piece and then uncover your authentic Black self.

Joy Linn Mackey is a wellness guru and founder of Motherland Ventures, LLC, a "Wellness, Justice and Joy" ecosystem that is dedicated to promoting racial healing in the USA.

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