Waiting to be an American

by Kiki

The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is a conundrum for me. I am happy to have it as a federal holiday but do not celebrate it, for reasons I will try to explain.

I am, in fact, an American. I have a passport issued by the United States of America. I was born in the state of Kansas and now live in California. But, in terms of how I feel, as a lesbian of African descent, I am not an American, not completely.

I was born in 1957, three years after the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision that purportedly made segregation in public schools illegal. Yet growing up in Alabama, I did not attend an integrated school until 1968, a full 14 years after the Supreme Court ruling. And the integration at the school I attended was provided by me alone.

When the national anthem is played at sporting events or elsewhere, I do not stand. I sit quietly in protest. I have been doing this long before Colin Kaepernick and others began taking a knee. I refuse to ignore the “pink elephant” of racism and inequality so pervasive in this country.

I do not deny that things are better in 2019 than when I was born, but change has been slow in coming, and we still live in a largely segregated society. 

Worse, my fellow citizens of European descent (read: white people) seem unable to see me — literally. I am often mistaken for other black people who look nothing like me — most recently, for a friend who is four inches shorter, has longer hair and much darker skin. 

I am not an American and will not be an American until people of color are no longer profiled for driving and shopping, and killed for simply being.

I am not an American and will not be an American until folks recognize that race and color are not synonymous. People of color come in a multitude of shades, from very light-skinned white to very dark-skinned black and all shades in between.

I am not an American and will not be an American until our differences and similarities based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and socioeconomic status are recognized, acknowledged and celebrated. The melting-pot theory robs us all of this wonderful diversity, and I refuse to participate in that assimilation.

I will be an American when diversity based on race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability is valued, accepted and pursued.

Until then, I will remain a lesbian of African descent, born in the United States, holding citizenship and a passport. I do in fact recognize my privileges and choose not to live somewhere else. But I also see how far we as a society have to go to ensure full rights and access to all.

Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of BlackHistoryEveryday.com. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by the Tribune News Service.


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