I have started this post a few times with a few different titles. Working titles have been, “Where do I Fit?” or “The Best Part of Seminary.” What helped me land on, “Claiming my Blackness” was starting to read the book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown. Each person’s story is unique, but I connected with this quote:
“Tiffani was my bridge to understanding that Black is beautiful whether it looked nerdy like me or cool like her. I could choose what felt right for me, without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like me. Black is not monolithic. Black is expansive, and I didn’t need the approval of whiteness in order to feel good in my skin. . . It was freedom.”I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown page 34.
When I was younger, I never really knew where I fit in and I was always searching for my place. Growing up I was one of a few Black kids in my school. It was the “colorblind” era, but friends assumed that I liked the Black boy in the grade ahead of me, and I thought I was suppose to like him too. It was clear that I wasn’t white. White was not where I fit.
College provided the first time in my life that I was around more than a handful of Black classmates. It was the first time in my life that I heard the terms “good hair” or “light skinned.” My RA took me home to Chicago with her, which marked the first time in my adult life being in a Black neighborhood. It was clear that I wasn’t, to some, Black enough. Yet I didn’t fully know what it meant to me or others to be Black.
It wasn’t until seminary, in my late 20’s, that I started to claim my Blackness. I went to the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC). I went there because I knew it would be the place that would challenge me to think about what it meant to be a Black leader in the ELCA. The best part of seminary for me was the dialogue group between Black and White women. I wasn’t really interested in the white women at all. I was there to learn and hear from the Black women in the group. The Black women in that group were to me as Tiffani was to Austin. They helped me to know that I was just fine the way I was. They helped me understand that black is beautiful, black is full of uniqueness, and that I didn’t have to change to meet someone else’s expectation of Blackness. These are still lessons that I need to draw upon and remember when I wonder if I’m going to fit in. I am who I am.
So, what do I mean when I talk about, “Claiming My Blackness?” I mean, my story is my story. It is unique in that I surprised many doctors and other professionals when they met Kara Skatrud with brown skin. Yet my story is the same as so many other Black women. Sadly, most of us have a stories about inappropriate things that white men have said to us. Claiming My Blackness means claiming my voice to share my story and to push for change for a better world for future generations. It also means not looking to white people for validation that it is okay to speak. Claiming My Blackness means claiming my space in the world and in the church without having to make white people feel comfortable with my presence. The journey to Claiming My Blackness is a lifelong adventure. Sharing my story is part of that journey.
I do wish that I would have Claimed My Blackness sooner in life, but my journey, no matter how long, has made me who I am today. Overall I’m happy with who I have become and who I am becoming. I’m thankful that I have claimed my voice in this moment in time. More and more I know exactly where I fit. I’m also grateful everyday for those women who gathered at seminary and courageously shared their stories and helped me to share mine. Hopefully, sharing my journey, my story, will truly to helpful to others. There is strength in our stories.