I still remember the exact day I found out I was black.

I went three glorious years completely removed from the concept of categorizing human beings by the activity of their melanocytes. In my three-year-old mind, people were kind, or mean–protective or untrustworthy.

I was learning to put together letters to read words. I remember standing atop my childhood home stair case, playing with a Florence Griffith Joyner doll. She wore her purple running outfit, the one with only one leg for her tights, and she sported several olympic gold medals.



I was looking over a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and I remember seeing a picture of a man, and recognizing the word: black.

I asked my mother why such a word would be used to describe a person. It appeared completely arbitrary to me then, as if mentioning that the man breathed oxygen, or slept. He was. What did colors have to do with it?

She towered over me: this presence of soothing authority, guidance, knowledge, and care. I guess she tried to explain it in a way a three-year-old could comprehend: she told me that this was just what people called us, and had for quite a long time.

It just was the way things were.

In my naiveté, I informed her that our skin was brown, so the entire concept made absolutely no sense. Also, why would people categorized using such an arbitrary system? The entire notion seemed like pure madness to me.

Kindergarten was no better. I wanted to be included in groups forbidden to me, fought to play with toys I shouldn’t play with, and generally made teachers uncomfortable by simply being.

I made no sense to them, and they definitely made absolutely no sense to me.

Twenty-six years later, I still take a second or two to translate words into the equivalent of what people believe they are saying. I hear things left unsaid, and fight to only address what was expressly stated.

How much can a rebel rebel, without either feeling insane, or like a grain of sand on a beach where the tide is coming in?

Either way, to what extent do we shape society, and to what extent does society shape us–or do we allow it to?









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