Growing up, I never imagined that at some point, having one foot into adulthood, I’d have to answer the question, “How to be Black?”
As an international student who moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in August 2019, my time in the United States has been a rollercoaster. I have had time to experience joy, gratitude and self-righteousness but also doubts, fears and insecurities.
This is especially true when I try to answer the prompt “How to be a Black woman in the U.S.?”
When I was still in Mozambique, I’d eagerly watch debates and listen to testimonies of Black people in the U.S. in an attempt to prepare myself for the journey of actually being a Black woman in the United States. Undoubtedly, coming from a non-white background like mine, it requires a preparedness to navigate environments that are predominantly, often completely, white. Consequently, as an international student from a country predominated by Black people, I experience racial issues in the U.S. differently than I did when I was in Mozambique.
Growing up in a country with over 26 million people who are descendants of African tribes and less than 2% come from European and South Asian ancestors, I was never forced to realize my Blackness in a global context firsthand. Once we are inside the little bubble that becomes our lives, within the limits of normality for our comfort zone, it gets difficult to realize the horizons into which our lives can expand, let alone actually challenge those default settings we define for ourselves.
Contrarily, the U.S. — a country with a population over 10 times greater than that of Mozambique — only presents 13.31% of the Black population. Living in diaspora, this scenario has required me to be more self-conscious as I maneuver these milieus daily.
Black people and non-white people tend to be spotted as the different ones, and an entire judgment that was systematically created and impregnated in our history is placed upon us. Black people don’t have the same work or educational opportunities, but mostly our lives are threatened constantly every day while we just try to make it alive to the building, let alone get a seat at the table.
Even so many years after the abolition of slavery, its roots are still deeply engraved in America’s societies and are reflected in the socio-economic and cultural aspects of being white or Black. Studies have reported that 42% of the U.S. workforce state that they have either experienced or witnessed racism at work. That has many damaging repercussions and negative effects, including in health.
As time moved forward since slavery, racism manifested in many other forms. One example comes from a time I went to Walmart. I was just concerned about running my groceries and, as a slightly compulsive buyer, checking if I was going over my budget. I kept seeing the same man in every corner checking on me. I stopped and stared at him. Only after so many seconds, it hit me, “I’m being followed inside a shopping house because I’m Black.”
I immediately remembered all of the stories I had listened to or read about. I was awed. I felt unsettled because of this overwhelming realization of being Black in the U.S., but, ultimately, I was pissed off at the fact that some guy was thinking of me as a shoplifter just because of the color of my skin.
But racism has not always been so easily perceived. Sometimes it comes in forms of smiles or jokes about the texture of our hair and how it should be “more civilized.” All these things are still very new to me, as I did not experience this in Mozambique.
When I reflect on this, I honestly think that there’s only so much that Black people can do. We fought for the independence of our countries, our communities and our families, and we fight oppression every day.
We also cannot be accountable for other people’s actions. Living in denial of the problematic status quo doesn’t make the problem disappear. In fact, it just adds more layers of obliviousness to the coming generations of white kids who will continue to benefit from the foundations that were solidified at the expense of Black people.
At the end of the day, this will only contribute to how racism will be manifested in social and cultural constructions.
This article is part of a series on diversity. For the complete list, read the introduction.