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Waking Up Black

Young Black man looking out at sunset

My legs feel extra heavy today which isn’t surprising because it’s the third time this week. It started the morning after a colleague asked why my hair wasn’t “all crazy” that day – I believe they were referring to my hair being out of the ponytail. What seems like an innocent question is something I’ve heard over and over again, not always the same way or with the same words. Each of these innocent questions begin to mount up and make me feel something is off about me. If I don’t wear a slicked-back ponytail, I seem unprofessional to some and to others “crazy”, “wild”, or “exotic” – all variants of unprofessional, when in the context of the workplace.

These are examples of microaggressions, “they’re something very specific: the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person’s membership in a group that’s discriminated against or subject to stereotypes.” And maybe you’ve heard a similar comment and don’t feel it was an attack or harmful but the difference here is that it has to do with my race, my ethnicity, and stereotypes gained through a history of racism – and at other times I’ve experienced comments, looks, behaviors that suggest my queerness is also up for evaluation. The crazy brings up a history of misdiagnoses in Black people, the wild insinuates we are more animalistic than white counterparts, and the exotic is fetishizing my skin tone and makes me desirable only when the majority deems it so.

So this morning, I’m lost in my thoughts about yet another comment and it’s killing my self-worth, something I’ve long fought to build and nourish. When the fatigue gets to you it shows up in a variety of ways for you mentally, emotionally, and physically. For me, this week, it’s making my legs feel they’ve been steeped in cement. As if my body is saying “it’s okay, you can stay right here in bed, that way you won’t have to look at the person and wonder ‘how have they gone 50 years of their life not learning what a microaggression is, even after you reported their previous comments to your supervisor’*.” At least my body gets it.

Finally, I place both arms to my side and brace for the lifting of my spine. The world floods to my face as I rise and despite wanting to let out a big sigh or simply cry in frustration, I remain silent almost to give the sun’s beam not an ounce of real pain. This is it, the moment I’ve dreaded three times over. My head falls as my spine straightens and I peer down to find that my legs are free of cement and yet I still feel heavier than last night. I have to remember it’s not just one comment, it’s a lifetime of them, paired with being followed in stores, having security called on me because I was existing while black, fear of being attacked by groups of white people, overhearing others discuss my race as a negative, being called the N-word, and watching black and brown bodies be harmed and killed over and over again all for television ratings and financial gains. All of these things are making my legs heavy, sometimes my heart strained or my head throbbing, and all of these things are telling me that maybe I should have tried not to wake up Black as it seems like an uphill battle.

And yet, I am choosing to rise. I will drag these legs if I need to because waking up Black, waking up me, is worth it. Maybe this hill’s incline feels steep but I know I have some relief waiting for me and comfort in my community; I’m going to make sure of it.

*Note that this not a representation of my current situation.


Hello! I’m KorbyQuan and I am the Creative Director for Acacia Counseling and Wellness, currently living in California. Although I work primarily with our marketing and outreach efforts across the company, I enjoy writing creatively for our blog as well. In my spare time, I love to obsess over TV shows, write plays, collect plants, read books, and spend time outside with my pup Bishop!

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