this is where i come from

i’ve never once thought to myself, i wish i was a white man.

it’s simply never been something i’ve aspired to. since i was a kid, i’ve just wanted to be comfortable in my own skin.

after all, God gave me my skin the same way he gave you yours.

truthfully, it’s always been somewhat confusing why my shade of melanin has triggered as many conversations as it has over the years. like sometimes it’s felt like some were obsessed over it. why would the color of my skin matter to anyone? yours never mattered to me, at least not negatively.

i suppose if i think deeper about it, it could make sense. sort of.

i grew up not being like most people. i get it, i looked different. that must have fascinated people. when you’re continually surrounded by those with the same shades that you have, different is much more obvious. different is weird. different can be frightening.

different can be threatening.

the jokes. the stares. the whispers. the glares.

it’s always been my normal so i carried on. what else could i do? not only have i fought to be comfortable in my own skin, i’ve strived, against my natural instincts, to just fit in. i just knew that the culture surrounding me wouldn’t assimilate to who i was, so it was up to me to be like everyone else.

in elementary school, when teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, i naively said i wanted to be president, just like my friends did, though i knew better than to dream that big. america was never set up for someone like me to achieve an office that high, or really anything remotely close to it, which is sad because this is my country just as much mine as it is anyone else’s. this is where i come from. i never dreamed i’d ever live to view a man of color take that oath of office.

i cried on election night in 2008. it was like the constraints had been lifted. i thought america had finally removed the roadblocks that had suppressed so many. it was one of those “we can do anything!” moments.

in that moment, as tears flowed down my face, i remembered the pain, the comments, the insults, the jokes.

“James, can you teach me ebonics?’

“James, you’re really smart, you know… for a black kid”

“James, you speak really well for someone with your skin color”

“James, there’s nothing about you that is black, you’re really a white man trapped in a black-skinned body”

“boy”

“nigger”

yeah.

with a black man as president, i was as proud of america, as i’d ever been. we’d endured for so long. we had accomplished so much together.

that’s why these days are so hard. here we are again.

we’re anything but united. we’re anything but civil toward those with opposing views. left and right. as if we were ever meant to think alike. we’re more driven by fear than we’ve ever been. instead of celebrating our unique stories and histories, we ridicule. instead of building bridges, we place dynamite and light matches. we wear red hats as a badge of honor but also as a warning. a shoe company’s marketing plan enflamed the nation. the flag has become a trigger and kneeling has turned from being a humble act to a condemned one.

i long for a day when the color of my skin doesn’t impact where i travel. like dr. king, i dream of a day when my daughter can live anywhere she pleases without concern. i wish my wife didn’t have to see the ugliness of this world being directed at me simply because my skin is a darker shade.

aren’t we better than all of this? weren’t we all designed by a creator who said we were all good? didn’t that creator say we were all beautiful?

instead of falling for invented headlines and becoming political pawns, when will we just say enough is enough? isn’t there more to all of this than, well, this?

there was a time when we could have said we actually were better than this. this isn’t that time. but it could be.

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