Excerpt from On Growing Up Black
If you want to teach them about their blackness, teach them:
Struggle is inevitable but do not glorify it. Do not get stuck in the past. Do not dwell on slavery. It’s pointless. Recognizing these things are necessary, but knowing yourself is even more pertinent. You are not failure. You are not slavery. You are not angry about the past. You are not waiting for a hand out. You are not less than. You are not scary. You are not a victim. And most importantly you do not have to compromise yourself for any system or society. Yes, you are black and therefore you have every right to decide what it is and is not for your own reality. Remind them that blackness is not a solid state and comes in infinite forms. You are just one of these forms, nonetheless you are the ambassadors of yourself first before any social role or category. You are the present culture and the future history. Know that and be it. It does not even take much effort just consciousness. Use this consciousness to create your own traditions if you are not satisfied with the ones you have. Use it to remember to acknowledge and celebrate your triumphs more than your struggles. And, get to know yourself more every day and accept and love all of you. Do not limit yourself by shunning your growth and change. Learn to welcome it and understand it. You are the architect and creator of you and your world.
When I was about 22 years old my uncle used to tell me that I struggle with who I am because of whom the world tells me I am supposed to be. I did not fully understand what he meant then. He told me to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself, “Who am I?” The question puzzled me and I realized, especially looking back now, that I generally identified myself with social labels and roles that come predefined and rather than attributes and adjectives that describe me. I remember writing in a journal about my uncle’s question. Towards the end I mentioned that I was not sure about who I was because I felt like I was always changing and still figuring out who I wanted to be. I concluded with:
“Who am I? I’m still trying to figure that out. Until I do, I know what I’m not and I will act in accordance.”
And now, 5 years later I can add a bit more to that:
I am not who or what you say I am, unless I say I am. Like space I am black, vast, and contain multitudes. Do not confine me. I define me. I am limitless. Infinite me. Free dimensional me—beyond three-dimensional to the depths of me. Finding me. Becoming me. Knowing me. I am no one thing. I am no thing. Who I am is for me to decide.
— Jarrel Phillips