For as long as I can remember, I have been black. This may seem like an objectively obvious statement. It is. But, being aware of one’s blackness is the chief influence of how I show up, take up and relinquish space.
Somewhere between the past and now I made up my mind who I would be. Much of this newly created Tyler was premeditated, influenced, constructed. The first time my space was interrupted was five year old me at Providence Montessori School. In the halls of this private, preschool for kids ages three to seven, oftentimes I found that there were few brown people, two brown boys and one brown teacher. Everyone else seemed to disappear into the majority-- wide mouthed, smiling faces of whites and tans and peaches and reds. Everything that wasn’t black. In that space, my impressionable years of self identity were less than aware of the uncomfortability and otherness I felt. In that space, I was the rambunctious, black boy who could not seem to keep their bodies tamed or sit ‘criss cross applesauce in: 3, 2, 1.” Younger than everyone else, with special circumstance allowing me to begin schooling merely a few weeks after turning three, I struggled to meet the parameters of the classroom space that my teachers demanded. Of course, I was not the only one. But the unique pigmentation of melanin in my skin and the years of socially criminalizing black men and boys, I was an easier target to spot. At parent teacher conferences, the lovely Ms. Jean addressed my parents-- yes both of them, I know it comes as a surprise, an entire black family unit, thriving and sending their small toddler to a private school-- “I think Tyler is having some problems. He never seems to sit down and his choice of words are… not what we would like to hear.” In this space, I was the perpetrator. A child having problems sitting down and following directions, with an attention span of twenty seconds and twenty three at most. Ms. Jean, with the support of an entire entire society built solely for whiteness to thrive, robbed me of my childhood wonder and my body had become criminalized. From that moment on, no space was mine.
Rather space is a constant adaptation of self to fit the distinct circumstance of the environment. For blacks, we are always fitting in the holes and cracked windows made of whiteness, with our authentic black selves. However, there is no space in this country that is authentically black. Even Historic Black Colleges and Universities were established out of desperation and segregation from white society. Our bodies in their various forms have been fetishized, sexualized and corrupted from having any purity or self-definition. Even in the acceptance of ourselves we are subjected to the scrutiny of history, the capitalization of modern society and the unnerving veneration of counter culture. Each moment shared between two blacks-- family, friends, partners-- are made on the pretense of common annexation, of shared strife.
Our coming-of-age ceremonies are conversations on how not to die at the hands of those sworn to protect. Our pomp and circumstance is how to alter ourselves to fit the white mold. Our first job is a lesson that few pass on how to deescalate and negate black stereotypes. Our first child is the greatest gift and greatest fear that in the middle of our break from the world, we will receive a call that our angel’s soul has been washed clean from this earth. Our retirement is an asthmatic breath of potential relief in a beautiful solace.
No space is mine. Every space I enter is a changing of the guards, a swift change in delivery, a means of surviving. Still I am safe and secure in who I am. My mind is the only space, Ms. Jean could not take from me.