Just as the statement "All Lives Matter" detracts from the very real challenges of your family, friends, and community members who are black, so too does the idea that the black experience is the same.
The experience of a person who is black who was born and grew up in America may be different from the experience of a person who is black who was born in a Caribbean country or in an African country or in another country who emigrated to America.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, many of my elementary age friends who were white assumed that because I was born in Jamaica I hadn't experienced racism. I didn't "sound black" to them because of my "Jamaican accent". As if that somehow my tone of voice could shield me from the effects of racism and racial microaggression in America. I was used as an example in their minds that racism wasn't really a thing, because here they had an example of someone who they knew who was black that wasn't called the n-word.
I explained to them, and was aware even at that young age, that my short lived experiences didn't mean racism didn't exist. And that they shouldn't make that assumption either. When I stepped outside of the doors of my Jamaican home, I was black not Jamaican, black in the way that systemic racism deemed me as negative. My "Jamaican accent" or that I didn't "sound black" wasn't going to save me from racists or feeling the effects of institutionalized racism. While I never experienced overt racism, I found myself many times on the receiving end of racial microaggressions as young as 7 and still am on the receiving end today at 36.
Every person who is black has a variety of experiences that make up their story. My experience as a black woman of Caribbean heritage should not be the end all of the black experience. It negates the experiences of my black brothers and sisters who have experienced overt racism. My black brothers and sisters who can directly trace their ancestry back to an enslaved family member. To lump all our experiences into one category or make assumptions is a dangerous slippery slope. Taking the time to sincerely ask your friends who are black, if they care to share what their black experience living in America is like and then actually listening to understand is a huge part of empathy.
As human beings we really have a horrible habit of not listening. Author Stephen Covey of "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" fame talks about the idea of truly listening in his 5th habit. He reminds his readers that "Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. That's what they want. That's what we all want — to be understood, valued and affirmed."
So I remind you today to let go of blanket homogenizing statements that devalue a person's individual experience and truly take the opportunity and the time to listen.
The Black Experience is Not Monolithic.
Written by Alexis @motherhoodmenageries