By Cairo Amani
This morning, my boss announced he’ll be meeting Prince William at a tech convention. The crowd went wild.
Afterward, my colleagues and I discussed everyone’s excitement. I admitted that I didn’t quite get it. “What’s the big deal?” I asked. “Why are we treating them like celebrities?”
“It’s true, they don’t do anything,” one of my colleagues said.
“Well, my friend met Angela Davis this past weekend and I’m so jealous.”
“Who is Angela Davis?”
I’ve always been weird; the teacher’s pet/tomboy/lead thespian in elementary school; the awkward girl whose relaxer never fully relaxed her hair in middle school. And then I went to a small private high school, where I was always the “other.” I dressed differently, listened to different music and had a completely different childhood than most of my peers. On the occasions I tried to fit in, I was ridiculed and ostracized further. I was one of two Black kids in my graduating class of 26, not counting three mixed girls.
In college, I found people like me — Black nerds who wanted to talk about anime and dissect the terrible issue with Disney movies. But we were the odd balls, maybe 30 Black students on a campus of thousands. The ratio was still low.
The world is big. A campus is small. I liked to call my school a miniature model of real life. I had a job and had to do my own laundry and I also got to experience discrimination firsthand, more in my face than I’ve ever experienced it post-graduation. I found out what it was like to fight and work and sweat and bleed, only to have all my efforts undone. Only to leave absolutely no mark. Only to feel like the institution was glad I was gone, so they could pretend I was never there.
And then I entered the real world. At my first job, the woman I had grown closest to was Chinese and she told me she didn’t identify as a person of color. I had to let that go, because that was her choice and her life experience. But I’ve never stopped wanting to engage in an in-depth discussion with her about how she’s not white.
I made a friend with a Latina woman, however, who understood my entire life. I have no such friend at my current job but at this point, I don’t really need that anymore. I can go grab a drink with a friend if we want to laugh at ignorant things we heard throughout the day. But this was a journey, a journey during which I collected all the the necessary tools for survival. I’ll share them with you here.
1. Stop Giving a Fuck.
My friends and I have discussed in-depth about our social activism in college versus our social activism now. Do we still care about these issues? Yes. Do we still consider ourselves activists? I think so. (I consider my writing a form of political activism.) I’m creating visibility for QPOC in mainstream science fiction. I have friends who are social workers, painters, poets, etc. But are we losing our hair and staying up all night because someone in our workspace doesn’t understand why they can’t touch our hair?
Again, I hope not. I know I’m not. At some point, you have to prize yourself and your own health over the issues at hand. Not giving a fuck doesn’t mean you stop caring. It means you stop sacrificing your inner peace to fix other people’s ignorance.
2. Find Solidarity.
Find your friends, find your niche, and run to that safe place whenever you have a chance. Have it be your umbrella in the rain, your fleece hoodie in the wind, your boots in the snow. Finding a community of like-minded people will help you feel less like an outsider, even if they’re not constantly with you.
3. Embrace Your Weird.
Yes. Tell ’em, Wifey. (That’s right, y’all. Dibs.)
I overheard a group of kids this summer. One girl said, “You can’t just walk around dressed like it’s Afropunk all time.”
Why the hell not?
Life isn’t short. It’s really long. So how many decades will you spend trying to slip into a skin better accepted in society? Wear your fro, cover yourself in tattoos, listen to your alternative rock music or pop in your Nicki Minaj CD.
Too often in life we become focused on being less weird. But why bother? Do you.
4. Milk the Benefits.
Life is about perspective.
I’m the only dark-skinned person in my office. I’m the only out queer person as well. At the very least, my skin color gets me put in company videos. I could feel tokenized but frankly, I spent my whole life feeling that way and I’m tired. Our product benefits a slew of children of color. I like to think I’m just making everyone feel more comfortable with the product.
I’ve had a lot of white people call me “cool” (and a lot of Black people once I changed my name). That could be for lack of another word or for fear of offending me when they really mean I have weird hair and loud clothes.
Six years ago, I’d be upset about this. I’d announce to Facebook that I was being fetishized. But now, I say thank you because I know life goes on outside of that interaction.
My field is barren, y’all.
Cairo loves moleskin notebooks, considers Scrivener a godsend, and enjoys reading, dancing, and board games that involve doing silly things for points. You can find out more about her here: about.me/cairoamani.