#inTheirVoice: “I Understood My Skin Made Me Different.”
“I will always call New Orleans my first home. I was a child and my parents were exceptionally adept at keeping my brother and me in a world of their own creation where there was only love and happiness and nothing else mattered. Perhaps it was this “bubble” being popped that opened my eyes up to the existence of racism once we moved to California. It was never too blatant – a monkey reference here, the n-word there – and perhaps wasn’t as much racism as it was ignorance. Still, it was the first time that I understood my skin made me different, and that this skin carried with it a lot of baggage.
My mother would eventually tell me that I was reading a concerning amount of books about slavery, and that we were more than that. This advice was coupled with the poem my mother wrote for me, which she would make me recite any time that I was feeling self-conscious, belittled, or unworthy: “I am bold, beautiful and brown. I am as good as any, and better than many…” Her support buoyed me to my adolescent years. It is what kept me strong when I began to travel abroad and realized that America is not the only place where my blackness was viewed negatively. Still, the self-worth and self-confidence that my parents planted in me began to bloom unprompted when I started to acknowledge my achievements in whatever I was putting my time and effort into.
My time at MIIS has been an interesting type of challenge. On one hand, not since my time in New Orleans have I met such a supportive, vibrant and proud community of black women and men endeavoring to emulate and embody the very best of our culture and people. On the other hand, my blackness was made even more apparent by the realization that there are not many of “us” in the space of international development or social change on an international level. During my classes, the archetype of the “white savior” seemed to be prevalent in the space to me, but would be seemingly unnoticeable to everyone else in the class who was not a PoC. This is not a critique of MIIS. If nothing else, my studies, written deliverables, and overall education have led to the defining of my new goal as I come to the end of my final semester.
I intend to carry on the legacy of being an innovator and breaking down barriers and standing steadfast in the face of adversity, but I want to apply that to the international development sphere. There aren’t many women or people of color in international development and global governance? Then I will seek to be one more in that group of few. The optics in this space can veer towards a pattern of white savior-ism? Then I will be there to disrupt that pattern. I know that there are problems here in the US related to systemic oppression, adherence to rule of law, and human rights violations. However, I want to use what power and privilege I have to assist people in conditions and circumstances worse than mine. The ultimate goal will be to open and operate my own consulting firm based around project management, process and operational consulting, and academic rigor to foster good governance and the rule of law as basic qualities of successful societies and market economies. Instead of pure research for research’s sake, I want to develop actionable and realistic policy recommendations based on ground realities.