What does it mean to be a black person living in Australia? Or on a broader spectrum, what does it meas to be a second-generation immigrant of colour living in a metropolis in Western society? Questions like these are never simply answered, more so they are reflected in our interactions with the people around us.
DISCLAIMER. I write this piece for the desire of wanting to be understood rather than listing the struggle of being a black woman in a white man’s world, so don’t load those trigger fingers. To all the black and brown boys and girls reading this right now I’d like to start off by saying you are beautiful. Your skin is not like dirt but rather it is the reincarnation of Mother Earth. Your hair isn’t difficult or wrong, rather it is the reflection of the branches and the leaves that sprout from the trunks of threes that give us life. In all the time it took you to love you skin, your melanin began to illuminate so much that everyone in the room had to stare.
These odes that we sing to ourselves are not just spoken words that disappear from lack of representation. It is our mothers, aunties and sisters sending us off to school with our hair in cornrows. It is our fathers, uncles and brothers wearing their dashikis in the local mall. It is the women in our lives unapologetically wearing a crown-like headwrap when everyone else’s hair falls flat. These lines are not just anecdotes but they are the words I wrote when I felt voiceless.
As a self-proclaimed artist, I spend a lot of my time reading and writing poetry, attempting to pay homage to the greats and mimicking their work. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. Obviously, this didn’t come easy, I doubted myself. I thought my voice was too loud, I thought my words weren’t worthy of being heard, and I thought no one would want to listen. This mentality sent me into a state of denial and inevitably led to suppressed potential.
However, I knew I wasn’t alone. I witnessed this doubt, this suppression of the urge to want to be yourself. I saw women I knew chemically straighten their hair until it was dead. I saw men I knew hold back their feelings because it didn’t fit into the structure of what it meant to be a hyper-masculine black man that degraded women. I avoided talking about these problems because to others they weren’t problems, they were our reality.
I’m writing this because I feel obligated, as I sip my freshly made caramel latte in one of the trendiest cafes in Melbourne, I somehow feel burdened with the desire to want to be a voice for others like me. I want to be a voice for second-generation immigrants who don’t speak their parent’s language, who have a burning passion to want to understand their culture but are conflicted by their Western upbringing, and those who hesitate to answer when asked where they are from. In the search for acceptance, it becomes less about finding ourselves and results in losing who we are. We take the road to two extremes, either dismissing our heritage out of embarrassment and hatred or forcing ourselves to partake in something that is merely a piece of who we are rather than what defines us.
Understanding where you fit in and learning to love the shape of you is a slow and gradual process, it isn’t an overnight remedy. I’d love to see the women I know smiling in their swimsuits, unapologetically basking in the sun that interacts with their melanin and the black boy joy that radiates when men are compassionate and vulnerable. We are not outcasts that are stripped of our culture or painfully trying to fit in. We are the counterculture millennials that are shaping our communities and redefining what it means to be ‘black’, and within this moment. We are learning to do it while unapologetically loving ourselves.
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