Black By Popular Demand: When the trending hashtag is your whole life experience

There have been so many things going on in the news: unarmed black men being killed by the police, white people calling the police on black people for doing NOTHING, and protesters against injustice being harmed while protesters against stay at home pandemic orders can pull up to government offices with open weapons and nothing happens. The thing about this news is it is not new. The United States was built on injustice from the moment this land was stolen from Native Americans. So the system is not broken, it’s doing what it was programmed to do

I know I have this podcast and blog where I can share my thoughts, experiences and tips so I’m going to use what I have to share my experiences with what’s going on and what my plans are going forward. Because things have to change and the one thing I have complete control over is myself and my actions to spread awareness for this injustice. That is the first step to stopping racism.

When I first heard the news that once again multiple unarmed black people being killed back to back by the police and white civilians (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery) I was triggered and so frustrated that this keeps happening. I had these same feelings when Philando Castille and Alton Sterling were both murdered by the police days apart in 2016, for no reason other than the fact that they were black men in America. I was mad at the justice system and this country for allowing this to happen. Now years later, I understand these systems were built on racial oppression so we must completely dismantle them. 

The thing I’m frustrated at now is the response and lack of action I see. I saw a tweet that said people do not be hating racism enough for me and that’s exactly how I feel. I’ve been more withdrawn from people because I don’t see them changing. People say “Black Lives Matter” as a caption on a post or a black square in their profile and think whew that’s enough work for today. Or others write off behavior like white people calling the cops on black people just living their lives as “stupid” when that behavior is not stupid, it’s weaponizing white privilege because they see the news and know what happens when the police respond to calls about an unarmed black people. This behavior and what’s going on is not stupid, it’s systematic racism and at the end of the day what are you doing to stop that as a privileged white person? I see these responses online from strangers and people I know and it just makes me really question where people stand. I know where I stand and my stance is action not complacency and “just going about my life” to make it through a system that doesn’t want to see me alive. How about you call out non-black friends for singing along to the n-word, stand up to your conservative family when they say “well all lives matter”, donate time and money to amplify black voices and so much more. I work to be the change I want to see every day even though I live in a society that will not listen to me because I am a black woman. So what’s your excuse?

To bring light I wanted to talk about the things I am doing to protest injustice, even though I believe black existence in a society that deems black people as less than human is enough. Outside of school, I work with black and brown kids in NYC public schools and teach them environmental education and what they can do to spread climate change awareness in their communities. I love this work because doing this I am able to listen to these kids and give them tools to use this activism and know that they have the power to make change. They know change is possible and that’s an important message to send. I would say I’m not the best teacher because I’m not good at settling the kids down when they’re talking too much or distracted but that’s just because I don’t feel the need to discipline black and brown kids when they’re already going to get that in the world. I think the best thing that can be done is giving them a platform to speak and be heard because frequently they’re not listened to. 

I also made this podcast “Annademia” to share my perspective on graduate school and my journey as a black scientist to inspire and help others. I give tips each episode and talk about important topics in academia that way other groups underrepresented in science will get interested in higher education. I want this podcast to help them enter that space with more knowledge and confidence in their abilities, because imposter syndrome is so real especially for black people. I believe diversity is crucial to influence change because how can a system that benefits white people change when only white people are running it and unable to know the black experience.

In my own life, I call out actions rooted in white supremacy and racism. I’ve heard non-black people say the n word in my presence along to a song and told them immediately “Do not say that you are not black.” I question racist words and behaviors around me no matter who they’re from. Being a more quiet person, I observe peoples’ actions and really listen to what people are saying because micro-aggressions are just as loud as blatant racism and just as harmful to the black community. I stay educated through reading, podcasts, and activist sources so that I’m not putting out information that will detract from the fight for equality.

For a long time I’ve felt like I haven’t been heard especially on the topic of racial inequality. When I was 8 years old, we made construction paper self portraits for my elementary art class where I was the only black student. In this class there was no black construction paper. I asked my art teacher for black construction paper to make my self portrait and she told me brown would have to do. I ended up having to use beige for my skin because there wasn’t enough brown left for me after other classmates used it to make their hair. My mom still has this portrait I made because it showed my artistic talent but to me it’s a reminder of how I haven’t been heard because of my blackness ever since I was young. Today I’m still that girl asking for black construction paper, just wanting to have a space in this country where I can be myself and not be afraid of what could happen to me because of the color of my skin. Hopefully people listen this time.