Being A Black Woman In America Can Be Exhausting — Here's Why

Photo: Courtesy of Radford Lathan.
As we approach the anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland in police custody, and try to recover from the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers in Dallas, many people of color, like myself, feel saddened, distraught, and even fatigued.

Being a Black woman in America can be exhausting. Of course, life in general is exhausting for many of us, but the kind of exhaustion I am referring to is particular to Blackness and, more specifically, particular to America. It's the land that I love — and the land that just can’t seem to love me back. Seeing so much death, so much brutality, so much anger has often left me unsure of how to proceed, of how to carry on, and most significantly, it has left me tired.

I never used to mention my race, but over the course of the last few years, I have increasingly drawn strength from my Blackness.

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I am tired of thinking about my race all the time. I never used to mention my race, but over the course of the last few years, I have increasingly drawn strength from my Blackness. I have felt empowered by discussing the injustices that face men and women of color in the U.S. and around the world.

Be that as it may, being constantly aware of the fact that people expect you to be a representative of your race is exhausting and creates a tremendous amount of pressure. Being the only person of color in the room often means that you are also the only person to bring up race. But it must be done, or else our would-be allies may remain oblivious to our struggles.
Photo: Courtesy of Radford Lathan.
Radford Lathan with her boyfriend and her parents.
I am tired of watching my people be brutalized and exploited under law and then being told that racism is over because the civil rights movement was 50 years ago and we have a Black president. From stop-and-frisk policies in New York, to the deaths of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, brown and Black children have come under attack.

I am tired of having fewer inalienable rights than my peers. Thomas Jefferson is a complicated historical figure as so many of our Founding Fathers were, but the Declaration of Independence was truly a work of genius. In it, he wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

I believe in this message wholeheartedly, but Jefferson, who owned slaves, either did not believe in the message, or did not believe that Black people were, in fact, people. It seems now this trend has held in America, despite some efforts to integrate us into society. Black bodies are regularly gunned down in interactions with law enforcement, and as a result, we are regularly denied due process of law, a right guaranteed by our Constitution.

I’m tired of watching my people be brutalized and exploited under law and then being told that racism is over because the civil rights movement was 50 years ago and we have a Black president.

I am tired of having to explain what is racist and what is not. Through a series of privileges that have been granted to me over the course of my lifetime, I am regularly the only Black face in the room. In fact, it was not until three years ago, when I moved to Brooklyn, that I was regularly surrounded by other Black people who were not related to me.

Because I am often the token Black girl, I am regularly expected to speak for Black people. I am forced to explain why it isn’t okay for white people to use the word n-----. I am resigned to explaining for the thousandth time that racism is more than just prejudice. Racism is institutional. Racism is structural. Racism is a force of oppression, not just a force of hatred.
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I should not be solely responsible for reminding my white peers that 400 years of oppression cannot be undone in 40 years.

I am tired of explaining that while people of color can be (and often are) prejudiced, they cannot be racist because at this point in history, people of color do not hold enough positions of power to create racist institutions in this country. That may be the case some day, but it is not now. To argue for the fact that it may be a possibility in the future distracts from the fact that there are institutions that severely limit the fundamental rights of Black Americans (and other people of color) today. I should not be solely responsible for reminding my white peers that 400 years of oppression cannot be undone in 40 years.

I am tired of wondering whether or not I should risk bringing Black children into this world because at this rate, I am very concerned that their lives will be worse than mine, not better. Not just because of the economy or shortened life expectancy, but because the progress of racial equality in this country has been seriously stalled since the 1980s, and I regularly struggle to see a clear path to the future.

I am tired of seeing videos of expendable Black bodies on Facebook and YouTube and all of the other social media channels that inundate our lives on a daily basis. Those videos are just reminders that if you’re Black, you aren’t entitled to due process of law. In fact, if you get it, you’re lucky.

I am tired of fighting for equality, but I am by no means finished.

Radford Lathan is an international development and education consultant and teacher based in Brooklyn. The views expressed here are her own.

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