Actual Space: Black Everyday by Rushelle Frazier
Editor Robert Lashley, Editor's Choice, November 30th, 2016
"I was pressed into reading out crazy parts of Mark Twain stories..."
“Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at email@example.com.
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When did you realize you were Black?
I believe I was in the third or fourth grade. Public school. Only black girl in my class, maybe one of three at best. Not good at sports. Complete Lack of coordination. I was assuming that the teasing I got from my peers was because of that, mostly, but there were often times where the teasing was also racialized. I had weird hair. My gums weren’t pink. I was pressed into reading out crazy parts of Mark Twain stories, and I wish somebody had told me I should have charged for my services during the whole month of February. Or when I wanted to fake sick when I knew we were going to discuss chattel slavery in History class.
One teacher just assumed I knew about Kwanzaa (my family is full of Christmas-and-Easter sort of Christians and weren’t studying a new holiday) and at least by then I played along (my family is full of deeply sarcastic people) in order to get out of math class. The only black kid that had paid me any attention at that point of my recent memory was the jerk who teased me mercilessly in middle school. Was I the first black girl to fall into this trap? I didn’t have too many black friends to speak with in private, it was almost like I was the only black girl I knew going through this.
In Central Mass, the white people don’t quit. In my teens and early twenties, I was being introduced as friend to these families of predominantly white people who only knew Predominately White people so often, I would just get to the point that I’d assumed there’s just this age group in white boys on the East coast that meant they were going to bring Someone Ethnic home for dinner, FOR THE FIRST TIME. The same way most white girls I knew went through a ponies phase or Jonathan Taylor Thomas phase (Yes, I did buy a couple Tiger Beat back in my day, but it was mostly to relate to my peers and check for that dude in Boy Meets World that was checkin for black girls).
I would do my best to chalk it up as material to write about, but in those moments where I came to the x-realization that
- A) This white lady is surprised I’m Black
- B) _____ didn’t tell her I’m Black. I’m surprised
- C) Is this some fucking joke
- D) Why the fuck are they a family that this is a thing
- E) Oh my god they grew up in a house of racists
- F) I need to text my cousin my location right quick
- G) This shit again
!) Why didn’t _______ deal with the shit before I got here
The wall you hit is abrasive. And I simultaneously remember that I remember I am Black Everyday, and that means that these people I am about to eat dinner with, chances are, only know of my ancestry as beginning in chains and in relationship to fuckwit manifest destiny. And, because I am the one remembering I am Black right now, aren’t I once again going to be the problem if I bring it up? Push around the casserole, complement the meal.
I ate a lot of grief for a really long time before I gave myself permission to live in my power. Before I could leave my home state and surround myself with supportive, loving, and politically aware Black people who would facilitate me waking the hell up.
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Header image courtesy of by Maha Alasaker. To view more of her work, go here.
Rushelle Frazier is a permaculture designer, gardener, herbalist, teacher, spoken word and visual artist based in Worcester, MA. Born in Queens, NY, she has been involved with poetry–page and stage–for the past decade, hosting poetry readings, workshops, and other cultural events throughout the East coast for over a decade. Rushelle is a member of the 2002 and 2015 Worcester Adult Slam Team, co-coach of the 2004 Worcester Youth Slam Team and the 2010 Savannah Youth Slam Team. Rushelle was voted Best Female Poet at the 2006 Savannah Spoken Word Festival. Rushelle founded Savannah, GA’s Tongue! Open Mouth and Music Show, as well as Worcester, MA’s Dirty Gerund Poetry Show and is co-founder of The Ladyface Players, a women’s performance troupe. She is the host of The Hot Spot at Nine Dot Gallery in Worcester, MA. She has been facilitating permaculture workshops and apprentice teaching design courses for the past four years, and has self-published seven chapbooks and recorded one poetry CD. Her latest release, Heavy Honey, is for sale at Doublebunny Press. Rushelle is the owner of Neighborhood Botanicals.