Showing Up Black at 25

By Madi B.

I realized I was black at 25. Don’t worry, the irony isn’t lost on me either. This statement always feels weird for me to write, say or even acknowledge, but it’s true. Sometimes trauma breaks us, but sometimes it makes us. I fall into the latter group. At 25, I realized I was black and the magnitude of what that meant, and boy, was that a wake up call.

Being mixed is weird. You grow up being told you’re not black enough, but very obviously not white enough.

To preface, I am a biracial woman who grew up in the suburbs, went to boarding school followed by business school. My whole life people told me “you sound white”. I never knew that was an insult. All of my friends were white, all of my professors were white- why would this be an insult to my 16 year old mind? Business school brought more of the same, I was the girl who was often referred to as “not really black”. I cringe just thinking about that now. I went about life in my J.Crew loafers and Abercrombie polos unaware that there was magic hidden inside my melanin. I thought that I was just, “the white black girl”, I really believed that skin color had nothing to do with who I was or how people treated me. I didn’t believe racism existed, and that everyone was just playing the victim. Tragic, I know. Fast forward ten years and bloop, turns out, the world sees me as black. When I walk into a room, no matter how I sound, or what I’m wearing- I’m black.

No one cares about my loafers? Huge shock.

I’m sure you’re curious to know what changed at 25. Trauma, trauma happened. Trauma actually started happening at 21 and continued until 25. I began a relationship with a man who used my race as a form of manipulation and abuse. This wasn’t his only form of abuse but his add on once he had me living my life in fear. He wanted me to be the model girlfriend, as long as I wasn’t “black”. He told me I wasn’t like the other black girls he knew. I remember smiling to myself at the time, thinking I’d done something right. Little did I know that what he meant was I was good at fitting into his box. I changed to fit a mold- his mold. I did the dishes, I wore my hair straight and I made sure to only listen to Beyonce when he wasn’t home. I learned to not speak up, because it was easier than the bruises that would be the alternative.

At 25, I realized that when I called the Police to save me, they didn’t care. I realized that I was alone in this fight and even though he told me over and over that I wasn’t black, I was. I learned I was black when an officer approached my car during a regular traffic stop with his gun drawn. My polo shirts and phone voice couldn’t save me, my straight hair went unnoticed. However my skin was on full display.

At 25 I left. I took my dogs, some clothes and picked myself up off the floor and fled. I ran back to a life that I no longer recognized and looked in the mirror to see a person that I didn’t know. At that moment, it really hit me. At 25, my breakup blew up on the internet. No one focused on the fact I survived, they focused on the fact that I loved a racist. Being viral is lonely- no one tells you that. Being in the spotlight of the internet is full of cruelty and the one thing everyone noticed- I am black. The internet chose to focus on the color of my skin rather than the physical abuse I lived through.

When I left, I tried to wash him off of me. I changed my look, changed my hair- red hair, pink hair, blue hair. I couldn’t wash it off and realized this is me. This person, these lived experiences, this skin- this is me.

That’s when it finally dawned on me. I’ve been showing up black this whole time but I was simultaneously trying to hide it. I realized I had to be the one to save myself in this story.

I spent 25 years being someone else to fit into boxes. Boarding school boxes, business school boxes, boxes for boys, boxes for bosses. Smile more, keep your voice down, cover your tattoos. I was someone else for far too long and I wasn’t going to be that anymore.

At 25, I learned that my blackness is not a hindrance but a gift, a strength. I realized that I will never walk into a room where I don’t belong because I belong to myself, and myself only. At 25, I learned to show up black and boy do I show up. I’m not going to fit into a box, and I’m certainly not going to help you check one. We all show up differently and at different times. It took 25 years to find my voice- and I’ll be damned if I’ll be silenced now or ever again.

Now, I’m 28, black as hell and taking my space- and I hope you choose yourself, every day and take your space.

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