Issue 7: Lawful Bodies
Black Girl Confessions
August 07, 2020
by Michelle D. Jackson-Saulters | @outdoorjournaltour
I have a confession to make. I used to say “All Lives Matter.” Cringe. Let me explain.
I’m biracial. My Mom is German (read: white) and my Dad is Black. To add an additional layer to the mix, my Dad was in the Army and I grew up in Germany on a military base with other soldiers and their families. I grew up in a bubble, to say the least. Honestly, when I think about it—it’s probably not much different than white folks in this country—a mostly untouched bubble where race isn’t a part of daily life. So, when I said “All Lives Matter,” I thought I was defending my Mom and my Oma and Opa, whom I am very close to. I thought saying “Black Lives Matter” meant that theirs didn’t—and in turn, mine didn’t either. God was I so wrong.
Not growing up in this country put me at a disadvantage. Racism is different in Germany, even on a military base. It absolutely exists, but surprisingly, it’s not systematic. It’s not ingrained in the culture the same way it is in the US. As a kid running around on base with my friends, I never—NEVER—thought about being Black, or feared the MPs (Military Police). So, when I moved to the States solo at 17 years old to go to college, I had serious culture shock. I didn’t understand that the system was stacked against me because I was Black, which I didn’t even identify as, by the way. Back then I identified as biracial because again, my Mom, my Oma, my Opa—they were such an important part of who I was. In my mind, identifying as Black meant I erased them.
This country doesn’t give a shit about my family or where I am from. When I walk into a room, I walk in as a Black woman. Period. My skin, my hair, my features, my curves. When I naively denied that, I unknowingly abandoned who I am. I fell into the same trap of white supremacy that I fight against today. I didn’t understand that then. For me, it was about my family and my experience. I didn’t consider the 400+ years of oppression that tainted this country—or my ancestors that I’m connected to regardless of my maternal lineage, which is a whole other rabbit hole to go down. We are not educated about this country’s true history. In first grade, we learn a catchy song about Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue, not about the disease and despair that he brought to the Indigenous people or the death and destruction of the African Slaves that followed.
This shit runs deep.
After more than two decades of living in this country, I’ve learned some things that I wish were not a reality. But what it boils down to is being Black in this country is not safe and never has been. Everything we learn is to protect ourselves. Blend in. Assimilate. Do more. Work harder. Accept microaggressions at work because that’s “just the way it is.” Text your wife if you get pulled over by the cops because you never know. If you see other Black or Brown folks pulled over by cops, stop and wait to make sure they get out of there alive. Avoid areas with confederate flags and pickup trucks. Don’t be offended when people ask how your hair “got that way.” Smile, nod, don’t draw attention to yourself.
I am a Black woman who happens to be mixed. I say Black Lives Matter loud and proud and stand behind everything it means because in this country, being Black has meant that our lives don’t matter. And in order for all lives to matter, Black and Brown lives have to matter as well, not just the white and white-passing ones. So until little Black boys and girls can play with theirs toys at the park, or walk home in the dark, or Black men and women can be pulled over by cops, go to a grocery store, or go for a fucking run without being assaulted or murdered, don’t you dare fix your lips to talk about “All Lives” because it’s the Black and Brown ones that this country has tossed aside. We must stand behind Black Lives Matter. We all deserve to be safe, seen, heard, and protected. I wish this wasn’t the world we live in. I wish Emmett, Trayvon, Riah, and so many more could have lived in safe bubbles, where their skin didn’t make them a target. They deserved so much more than what the world gave them.
What I learned is that BLM does not negate my family, nor does it negate anyone else. From the perspective of our society, their lives already matter, it’s mine that is disposable. They benefit from their white skin whether they want to or not. I don’t have that privilege. Period. This was a disheartening lesson to learn, but I hope that my overdue epiphany hits home for someone else out there. Be proud of who you are, but we can’t afford to walk through this world ignorantly. Everyone should be screaming BLACK LIVES MATTER because all lives matter and those that are disproportionately affected by police brutality and systematic racism need the support in order to dismantle the system and make real change.