Wait, am I black?

I’m sitting on my bed one day before I find out about the NOLS Gateway Partnership freaking out.  I’m biting my nails–which totally isn’t my thing. I’m all gassed up–which totally is my thing, and I have butterflies in my entire torso. I also applied for a Fellowship and I found myself on their website again. I seriously can’t seem to stay off. Looking over the requirements brought me back to an issue that frequently pops up in the world of equity work; Ethnic vs. Racial Identity.  Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with NOLS.  They’re great. My issue stems from the systemic oppression surrounding race and ethnicity in the United States of America. The Fellowship requirements are:

  • At least 21 years old, with some exceptions on a case-by-case basis
  • NOLS graduate
  • Clean driving record
  • U.S. citizen
  • Ethnically American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or multiracial (categories defined by the EEOC, U.S. Census Bureau).
  • High level of initiative, attention to detail, flexibility, self-motivation, sense of humor and tolerance.
  • Punctual, dependable and excellent “expedition behavior” in a communal living environment.
  • Competence with Apple computers as well as MS Word and Excel.
  • Excellent critical thinking and communication skills
  • Ability to work well in a dynamic environment and adjust priorities quickly
  • Understanding and passion for the NOLS mission
  • Physically able to bend, stoop, crouch, lift (up to 40 lbs.), frequent walk, and stand for extended periods of time.

Here’s the thing. Though I often find myself living the African American Experience, I’m not African American. I am however, Black.  I refused to fill out the Census in 2010 because I problematized their adoption of “Negro” as an option.  I also problematized the Black OR African American word choices.  It’s not an either or situation.  It’s like saying are you Asian, or Pacific Islander, are you Tall, or a Woman, are you Eating, or are you digesting, are you a Rectangle, or a square.

One can be both.

Because I look like this:Image

I have encountered the same racial inequalities as someone who identifies as an African American. But, I’m West Indian. My mother is from The Virgin Islands and my father is from Jamaica. Like born and raised there, from there. They came to the states for college. My brother and I were born here.  I identify as Black because of the way the world treats me as a result of how I look.  An old woman in a care unit where I worked when I was 18 tried to kick me in the face and call me a nigger no more than 5 hours after I signed the new employee paperwork.  People making off-handed, not all disparaging, references to my ethnicity ALWAYS allocate my existence into the African American box, initially.  It’s not until after I correct them and explain that they understand the difference.

My battle against the homogenization of the African Diaspora is important to me because it’s the root cellar where my good childhood memories live.  I remember living in Jamaica. When I return to that home I can see images of my childhood painted on my surroundings like holographic images.  Ackee and sal’fish, green banana, breadfruit, yellow yam, jerk chicken, curry goat, curry chicken…all of it resonates inside me like a tympani drum.  I spoke Patois fluently in my youth. I stopped when the kids, of all races and ethnic identities here in the States, made fun of me and pointed out that I was different.  When I discarded my language I shaved off an identifier.  When I went to boarding school, I stepped into another realm. It wasn’t until my twenties that I realized how much of myself was tied up in my ethnic culture.  I’d soaked in the acid of American assimilation and became, through visual identification African American. I’d lost myself.

I don’t mind being connected with my genetically, tinted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.  We are connected, regardless, because we live in a society that has colonized us. My visit to the Virgin Islands at 21 taught me that all of U.S.V.I. was purchased by the US government for 25 million dollars. Our economy is fully reliant upon tourism… upon the extravagant expenditures of the privileged. We share a common bond in that tint of our skin and the pain of our experience.  We are united in the endeavor to celebrate our intelligence, talent, and resiliency. My desire to own my ethnicity and resist the convenient markings of the Census Bureau is oppositional by action and not intent. I am merely showing you that your antiquated boxes based on convenient observations have no place in my world.  I am Black, but I am not African American. I am West Indian.

Related: I had no idea this was happening, but it sure as hell is related
The First African-American Spokeswoman for DNC Isn’t Black Enough, Says Idiot White Guy

Body Image

To say I have a problem with body image is to Mitt Romney might be a Republican.  My struggle with weight has existed since college.  While many put on freshman 15, I put on freshman 40 (+/-).  My face puffed and my calves, which are usually fat free expanded with cellulite as well. I have a pictures where my potbelly looks like I’m 6 months pregnant.  It’s been a struggle. Often a struggle of which I was unaware, but a struggle nonetheless.  During my last Obgyn visit in 2010 my doctor told me I needed to lose 50lbs.  A few months ago I went to the emergency room with chest pains. At a follow-up visit the doctor told me I was strong, but I “needed to lose weight.”  I can pack on 20 lbs in a season without thinking about it.

Photo 326

After proofreading this post I wanted to take this down. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to remove it…for now.

One of the biggest issues that comes with these weight fluctuations is a skewed body image.  No matter how much I weigh,  when I look in the mirror I see that 6 months pregnant not actually pregnant 19 year old. This is a picture of my back a few months ago.  My bra is too small and back fat is spilling out the sides.  The thing is about 2 years ago this bra fit perfectly, and was, in fact, an eensy bit too big.

I don’t have a picture of of my back, but this is a random picture of me from that summer when I was at my most fit.  Photo 49

I spent the summer leading backpacking trips and had less than enough food to eat.  I remember cooking a red pepper with an onion, adding salsa, and putting it in a corn tortilla.  I couldn’t afford bus fare to and from work, so I’d bike the 10+ miles to and from the base each day I was in the front country.  Seattle ain’t flat. In the back country I’d carry a pack between 50 & 80 pounds (+/-) and hike 2-7 miles daily.  I was in great shape.

It is nearly impossible for me to maintain that level of fitness in the front country.  Fitness was my entire life. The problem with the off-season is that I was not burning the same amount of calories, I consumed relatively the same amount of calories if not more, and I wasn’t consuming the same quality of calories (Red Hot Blues vs. G.O.R.P.).  As a result, I needed to find a way to burn a large amount of calories + go to work and lead an urban life.  Not simple. I’m not a fan of pretend exercise. I don’t want to go to the gym. I’d rather hike 14 miles to get from one campsite to another. With the hiking it’s mandatory exercise. The gym is pretend.

I started roller derby in June of 2012. I skated about 3 times a week from June until August.  I was in a different kind of shape. Just look at my legs.  Here is a picture of me in July or August of 2012.

Photo 335

My rectus femoris (totally had to look that up) are AMAZING. My gracilis (again with the look up) are lacking.  I know you can’t “spot” burn fat, but that’s a place I would if I could. I’d like to accomplish a few things:

1. Reconcile what I look like in the mirror with what I see in pictures, and what is true in real life. There is a huge disconnect for me.

Photo 317

I had no idea my stomach looked like this until I took this picture and saw it. Even when I looked back at the mirror I couldn’t see myself as I was.

2. Develop an eating lifestyle that is not reward based and does not lend itself to stress or emotional eating

3. Understand that women are different. Websites like My Body Gallery are fantastic.  I don’t need to look like: Michonne.1.2  imagesimages-1images-2

No matter how much weight I lose I won’t be shaped like them.  My body is built to climb mountains not to grace the covers of magazines stocked on shelves in a society that oversexualizes women.  Their bodies are beautiful.  I just don’t need to make them the mile marker for my own.

Taken 3.20.2013

Taken 3.20.2013

Related blog entries:

Chest Pains – She is indeed Undone

Detox – Wearingmyblackness

Knock Kneed Mary – Wearingmyblackness

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Cheers!