Photo by Jazmin Quaynor

I Don’t Know How to Explain What It Feels Like to Be Black

The pain lives and breathes in the colour of my skin, but most never see it.

I’m 27. Canadian. A writer. And Black.

There are think pieces that can describe what it feels like to be the first three of those things. Funny anecdotes abound about being a mid-to-late twenty something growing up in Canada. Buzzfeed listicles acutely (and hilariously) detail the highs and lows of being a writer in our tech-driven, app-saturated world.

And now more than ever, there are articles that talk about what it means to be Black today.

But what about how it feels?

I don’t know how to tell someone what it’s like to be afraid to open Twitter and wonder if someone else’s name has been turned into a hashtag. To be aware of how sickeningly fitting it is that hashtags are number signs.

I don’t know how to explain the awkwardness of watching your non-Black friends jam to the latest hip hop record, then seamlessly transition into radio silence when another black man is murdered by a police officer.

You’ll loudly sing in chorus with our entertainers but not with our activists? I find it hard to believe that the themes in hip hop songs more strongly resonate with you than demands for justice.

Writers and activists alike have explained the anger, sadness, and the confusion at the state of blackness today, in ways far more eloquent than I ever could. But I don’t know how to tell people how it feels to read those words, each word a bullet. Only these bullets tear at the soul, not flesh.

I don’t know how to explain how it feels. To walk into work and feel the weight of your melanin in a way you’ve never felt before. Wondering when someone is going to bring up the events of the weeks prior with you, while simultaneously knowing that no one will.

I haven’t yet found the words to describe what it feels like to watch people cry out over the death of a gorilla so ferociously. Posting articles, and engaging in extended, heated debates over his untimely death. You sometimes call people that look like me apes and monkeys, too, remember? And yet, you feel no rage when one of us is killed. How ironic.

I know all the statistics. The metrics and data of being Black. They repeat on a loop in my head with each new injustice. They are easy to graphically display, compute. Analyze. But not easy to feel. Reducing death to unfeeling, rational mathematics doesn’t take away its feeling. The numbers are still bodies. The bodies are still dead.

I wake up, get on the train. Maybe I see another Black person. I probably don’t. I go to work, contemplating how unnecessary it is to wear black to mourn. We wear our blackness every day; a permanent veil. With the closing of another day, I get back on the train. This time, I do see another Black person. I wonder if they were alone in their blackness today, too. There is a strange dichotomy to blackness that no one talks about: to be Black is to exist in isolated silence. Being loud and being Black is dangerous. We learn that early in life. So we fade. We get quiet. It’s the abrupt end of blackness that’s loud.

I strive to reaffirm my blackness at all times. Constantly reminding myself that I am valuable and valued. And I hold that truth as self-evident. But if I’m being honest, it doesn’t feel good to be Black right now. It’s not fun. It’s heavy. It’s overwhelming.

I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to be Black. I just wish it felt better sometimes.