Zari Havercome, 130 YinD
W. E. B. Du Bois, in his 1903 publication of “The Souls of Black Folk,” unpacks the very real concept of double consciousness. As I interpret his explanation, it describes the sensation that one’s identity is experienced in parts and makes it a social challenge to have one unified yet multi-faceted sense of self.
As a young woman from the mean and rapidly gentrifying streets of Brooklyn that graduated from Brandeis University I have a very intimate relationship with double consciousness. I am often “the only…” in any given environment. It is not perfect or ideal but it is reality.
That being said my path to Peace Corps, for the last 10 years, has led me to work and support youth around the world. This means that I am, for many reasons, working outside of my own community, away from people that look like me, have the same culture as me, and can understand me. This, however, is all part of my well thought out master plan for world domination with an army of inspiring, equitable gender roles-believing, environmentally-friendly, critical thinking, super cool youth doing right by one another across cultures and languages.
Oh, a girl can dream!
Indeed, I can dream, and then I can plan, and I can teach, and most of all I can try. That’s exactly what I do. I try to support communities that ask for the skills that I possess. Skills that I have been able to nurture because of the support from the leaders and mentors before and beside me. It is a magical feeling that can lift me up so far off the ground, I can’t imagine life getting any better, because I know my purpose….
And then I learn about the tragedy of young Nia Wilson’s murder. I read the tweets, the continuing use of the hashtag: #SayHerName, and I see all the posts on the climate of emotions that a lot of people have, ones that mirror my own. Yet, another occurrence of a black person, a young woman, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a child, a life being taken because of the systems that exist that feed into these acts of violence.
As a volunteer in Thailand I am usually the only black person, or black woman in the room. Only now, instead of it typically being around Caucasian Western folk I’m in a community of Thai folk.
I see the news. I feel the fear. I see the sadness. I understand the tears. But I am not home, in America, amongst my friends, my family, and peers. I am in my village, where no one looks like me, knows where my parent’s countries are located, or can identify with my pain. Nia Wilson was the same age as my sister. I do not mean to personalize this young woman’s passing but I can’t help but be affected. I see the headlines and read about yet another act of violence that took the life of a black man, a woman, a child, and my heart drops hoping that it isn’t an old classmate, a friend’s partner, a past co-worker, a family member.
How can I reconcile that my identity, experienced in parts, during my Peace Corps service is supported from those so far away. The fear, the sadness, the anger, the guilt. That I am living my best life and folks that look like me are hurting at the hands of these occurrences. Wishing to support my community how I support my Thai youth. How do I soothe the guilt and seemingly irrational feeling that I am lucky to be outside of that environment, lucky to be able to envision my future, lucky to be alive… All the while experiencing my own challenges that foreigners may have: a perception that Black American women are hyper-sexual, our skin and hair are to be experienced, our personalities are to be contained, our presence is a cause for concern..
This inner-conflict won’t resolve itself any time soon, as long as changes aren’t made to prevent the death of young black women and men and children living their lives the best way they can. There needs to be better opportunities for representations that dismantles the ill-informed perception that we are a monolith, to be denied basic rights and suffer from institutional dehumanization.
Until then I can try to settle into some peace and pursue acts of love and kindness, to be found from the depths of my humanity. Meaning “Thank you,” performing “I Love You,” and inviting “I Need Help,” where I can.
The fact that we can still give and receive love at a time where acts of violence continue against people with our varying identities, where people go to Facebook live instead of call the authorities, when society is constantly challenged by our exhausted hands and critical minds is nothing short of incredible.
It is because of you, whoever you are reading this piece of my soul. You are valuable beyond capitalism and education; beyond instagram followers and sexuality; beyond careers and student loans; beyond #couplegoals and non-conventional partners; beyond FOMO and whatever is poppin off on social media. You are valuable because you live and may you continue to live as freely and purposefully as you can.
Read Zari’s previous article Becoming Bai Dtong.