I remember aching to be white for the first time in sixth grade. I walked through the hallway, clutching my English teacher’s hall pass on the way to the bathroom, when I noticed the long, straight brown hair of the girl walking in front of me. I looked closely at the way it laid, all the ends cut in one perfect straight edge. I wondered why my haircuts never looked like that. That feeling followed me for years.
Soon after, I began straightening my hair every morning, secretly so my parents wouldn’t know. They thought I was much too young for all of that, and they urged me to slick my hair back with coconut oil, just as they wore their hair to school in India. I couldn’t do that, of course, or I’d be bullied for the smell and texture, just like I was in elementary school.
At age 12, I didn’t know the political implications of straightening my hair. I also didn’t know of any “pretty girls” or movie stars with hair that looked like mine, not even in Bollywood. While I noticed that the hair of my Black classmates didn’t lie straight either, I did not know that, unlike me, their hair texture would cause them to struggle in the future to get interviews, get hired and be taken seriously.
In fact, it took me until ninth grade, when I read “Just Mercy”, to realize that the racism Black Americans experience is not like what I experience at all. It took me even longer to learn the extent of it. In fact, I am still learning the extent of it.
Acknowledging and coping with the microaggressions aimed directly at me while understanding my own place and privilege in the systematic oppression of Black people has been challenging and, at times, all-consuming. In educating myself on the struggles faced by Black Americans, I have been faced with the task of confronting my role as an aggressor, rather than a victim of racism.
While my efforts began years ago, the Black Lives Matter movement and the current political climate has, for the first time, given me hope that real change is coming and pushes me to work harder to usher it in. The fact that this movement is happening while a president who actively opposes the importance of Black lives sits in office both hurts my heart and fills me with optimism.
Black Americans live with the fact that the very statement that their lives matter is controversial. I cannot imagine the weight of this burden. Trump’s influence as president goes beyond the harm of his policy implementations. His rhetoric creates an environment that fosters hate speech and hate crimes, encourages far-right polarization and villianizes the media in an outright fascist manner. In fact, in 2019, hate crimes hit a 16-year-high according to the F.B.I.
During a time where we, as a nation, should be focused on recognizing systemic racism and bringing about change, Trump is attacking Black Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, immigrants and international students, among countless others. No, Biden is not the candidate of our dreams but NO, he will not stand in our way.
Joe Biden directly plans to battle systemic racism by fighting racist lending practices, supporting Black entrepreneurs and providing special support to the Black community during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, of which they are some of the primary victims. With four years under Biden, we may be able to make significant changes to the structures which disadvantage Black Americans, changes which could have a ripple effect on generations to come.
I’m voting for a future where sixth graders like me and their Black classmates will feel no need to fight who they are in an effort to be included, appreciated and celebrated.
Coulture’s mission statement says that we aim to be a magazine for people of all shapes and sizes, for those who speak up and stand out. We recognize that it is important to hear from people with personal views, strong perspectives, and something to say. This article is part of Coulture’s “What I’m Voting For” initiative where members write about the issues they care about in the 2020 election.
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