I was five or six in this picture. The name of my team was the Pink Flamingos. It was this season; my first time playing organized soccer that I was taught what I remember to be my first lesson about race.
My skin was just as light if not lighter than the other girls. Yet it was my braided, coarser hair and plump lips that gave way to the color that my pigment didn’t show. I was faster than everyone. I was stronger than everyone. I was a pint-sized ball of endless energy, running non-stop around the field.
Then, one game, I was running less. It wasn’t because I was tired, but because my coach was decreasing my playing time. I was told to pass more and shoot less, and I remember finding this strange because I passed just as much as I shot; it was not my fault that I did what my teammates couldn’t.
My energy began to go to waste. I would sit idle on the sidelines. At first, I was just happy to be in the presence of the game I fell in love with as a toddler. I would cheer my teammates on. I would giggle and goof off with the other girls until it was time to go in again… but it rarely ever was. I didn’t understand why I was being penalized for scoring; was that not the point of the game?
I can’t imagine how pained my parents were when they sat down and told me that some people would try to minimize my talent(s) because I was Black. I could not yet fathom that there were adults who would want their daughters to succeed not because they simply wanted them to perform well, but because they wanted them to perform better than me.
Sooner than later, it was crystal clear. I was the token Black girl on every soccer team except one, out of my whole entire career. (Keep in mind that I played soccer until I was 20 years old). I was subject to mocks and jeers from the fans of opponents (especially during tournament play in the south), had been called “Nigger” countless times, was subject to unfair calls from referees and faced slander from opposing players. And it sounds bad, but the more it happened, the more passive I became. My outward anger turned into silent rage. You should never get comfortable in being mistreated, but I felt that there was nothing that I could do but to let my soccer skills speak for themselves.
Back then, terms such as “Black Girl Magic” didn’t exist. There was no staple aside from “Black Power” that could resonate within our minds to help us embrace our identities and live our authentic selves without feeling bad about it. If a Black person did something worth honoring you might have heard a congratulatory response that included the words “Black Excellence.”
Nowadays, in light of police brutality (among other things), Blacks are fed up. In my 23 years on this Earth, I have not seen as much unity between my people as I do now. I have not seen as much uplifting and empowerment as I do now. Terms such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Girl Magic,” “Black Excellence,” anything regarding “Melanin on fleek” or “carefree black boys/girls” enrages those who aren’t Black. In response, I often times hear that “All lives matter,” that “All women are beautiful,” or that “melanin shouldn’t be mentioned since we all have it,” the extent just varies.
All lives DO matter, but only certain ones are subject to oppression. Black girls ARE made of magic, and if more people believed that, we wouldn’t have to say it so often. Black Excellence will NEVER go unnoticed, and if we didn’t have to work more than twice as hard to get just as far as other races, we wouldn’t have to mention it. The melanin of my friends, family and fellow Black people IS poppin’, and if colorism didn’t exist, any mantra regarding darker skin wouldn’t have to either.
Non-POC try to put us in boxes then get mad when we refuse to live inside of them. I have been cast down and criticized by former teammates and colleagues on Instagram for openly expressing an animosity towards institutionalized racism, systematic oppression and the daily degradation that Blacks face. I refuse to remain mute on topics that effect my livelihood. I will not stay silent when my people who have a darker complexion are ignored and disregarded as if their opinion does not matter, because it does.
My strife started on a soccer bench and followed me into school, people’s homes, to work, and essentially every aspect of my life. I will not succumb to the limitations that society has placed on my race for centuries. My soccer career may have ended, but my passion and drive have not. Every day I remind myself that I am worth being here just like the next woman, and my presence is going to depict that. We don’t have to be a celebrity to be cared about, we don’t have to be rich to be sought after, we don’t have to straighten our hair or speak perfect English to be respected. We are human. We’re just Black, and that should be enough.