How fitting that I finally get around to watching The Butler on Martin Luther King day.  For those of you who aren’t up to speed, the film follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler who served in the White House for over 30 years.  His story is told in tandem with that of his son’s, a Freedom Fighter during the Civil Rights Movement.  Boy howdy, their worlds are so different and it is so beautifully depicted through the cinematography.  In the White House, Cecil is proud to serve in this fairy tale world.  Outside on the streets, violence and hatred is prevalent.

There is a scene where a group of black students sit at a counter, defying all rules of “whites only” seating.  They sit, peacefully and ask to be served.  White customers proceed to verbally abuse them, push them around, throw milkshakes and squirt ketchup in their faces, rubbing it in, throwing hot coffee on them and pushing them on the ground where they kick them until the cops come.  And it’s not the aggressive, angry abusers that get taken in.  It’s the stoic, polite group of people who just wanted to sit freely.

It was at this point I began crying.  I don’t think I stopped until the credits started rolling.

Hi.  I’m Jade.  I am African American.  And I am ashamed to admit that I never truly accepted that fact until today.

When I was growing up, I was very “white”.  All of my friends were white, my favorite TV shows and bands were white.  I wanted straight hair, I despised rap music and R&B, I thought braids were ugly and Scary Spice was my least favorite Spice Girl.  I wanted to be Belle and the Pink Power Ranger and I avoided going out in the sun because it would make my skin darker. My white Barbies were prettier than my black Barbies.  I don’t know how it started, but I always equated being white with being good, beautiful, intelligent, whatever.

I lived in fear of being called “ghetto”.  Ghetto was the absolute worst thing in the world to be.  So I shied away from anything that even remotely resembled being ghetto.  Consequently, that meant shunning my culture, my heritage and ultimately my identity.  A few “ghetto” examples tainted my entire view of Black history.

I apologize to my ancestors and the people who came before me and fought for my rights.  I apologize for disrespecting them for so long.  By not accepting my heritage I basically spit in the face of every single man, woman and child who was enslaved, beaten, ridiculed and tortured.  I’ve had it so easy in so many ways.  I’ve never let the gravity of what they suffered settle in.  I’ve turned a blind eye, yet enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

Today, it hit me.  Hard.  Between slavery and fighting for equal rights…I can’t begin to imagine how disheartening and painful life must have been.  I am thankful beyond words and humbled by the experiences of those men and women.  It’s because of them that I have been seen for who I am and what I’m capable of instead of a skin color.

As I write this, I feel a tightness in my chest releasing.  For so long I’ve denied the largest part of my identity.  Once I stopped denying it, I was so ashamed of my denial that I just stopped thinking about it.  It’s only recently that I’ve opened up to embracing my heritage because without it, I will never be my truest self.  I will never love myself fully if I don’t accept who I am.

I am Jade.  I am black.  And I am thankful.

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

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-Jadey Lady

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