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Black in Idaho

Photo courtesy of Leandro Valentino

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

– W.E.B. Debois

I am Black. Always have been, always will be. I am Black, and I live in Idaho.  

I am caught between two identities. One is withering away. The other stands proud as if I do not feel lawless in some capacity, but I should embody my true identity. It’s Black History month after all. 

Now, Black History Month is ending, but I have minimal feelings. Is it the way that I perceive those around me? Is it the way that I have lived here so long that I seem to have lost touch with my Blackness? 

My Blackness is not something you think of once at the beginning of the shortest month of the year. My Blackness is not a fleeting thought in the windowless cell that occupies your mind. 

Black History Month is ending, and I have yet to have a conversation with my parents, with my white family. I am not ashamed of the way that I was built, I am ashamed of the world I’m built into. 

As this month looms on its end, I feel this sense of dread—the same fear I felt when the summer of 2020 was ending; I will be forgotten, my people will be forgotten. But then again, how many people truly knew it was a month embedded with the hate of my ancestors? Those around me walk by with an ease that I envy, as my mind is filled with whispering doubts about the way that I look. 

Black History Month, Black lives matter
[Photo of protestors at a Black Lives Matter rally]
Photo courtesy of Leandro Valentino

What if I move the wrong way? I can’t look like I’m stealing. Please, God, do not let me get pulled over today. I’m not one for letting indifference take over my body, but sometimes it does, and sometimes I let it.

I am hesitant to admit that I came to terms with my skin late in my teen years. I chase away the feelings of inadequacy, I am fine the way I am. 

The way that I am is dipped in the need to always talk about my experiences. The way I am is submerged in the need to pull back and push forward because one month does not account for the decades my people were in chains. I feel disoriented yet my mind is clear every time I think of an unarmed Black person who did not deserve to lose their life. It seems a month meant for me is a stone left unturned. 

I am Black in Idaho. I feel safe a lot of the time — until I don’t. 

I used to be a person who did not think about my skin color, it was the least of my problems. As I grew older, I felt ill at the way it slithered to the front of my mind. Now, it is all I can think about. 

What do you think about when you walk into a room, and you’re the only one with the skin color marked with oppression? Do you feel suffocated by the unassuming air? It could be worse, but it could be so much better. 

I am nervous most days. It’s always at the back of my unraveling mind. I want to be quiet and simultaneously scream. It’s an odd feeling — being trapped between your Blackness and your city. It’s a mark of contentment and heartbreak. My heart breaks for those who feel the same as me. 

Black History Month is almost over and I still haven’t told my grandma about a guest teacher who spoke words of criticism to me as if I was the only one with faults. It follows me around. My skin is not an excuse for hatred. My skin is not an excuse for hands in my hair. My skin is not an excuse to sculpt me into your comfort zone. My skin IS an excuse for me to feel angry and melancholy and joy all in one breath. 

Black History Month is over, and yet for me, it feels just like any other day.

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