This blog post was written by our Advocacy Intern Shelby Adams.
“You have two things against you in this world - you’re Black and a woman,” my dad said to me, holding his two fingers up to emphasize his message. I nodded along not thinking too much, as this was something he told me all the time.
From a very young age, my parents always made me aware of my identity and how I needed to navigate life differently than others. But the realities and violence of racism never struck me as a child, as I was ready to conquer the world and accomplish whatever I set my mind to.
One summer, I went to my grandmother’s home for a family gathering. Right when we were supposed to leave, my family began to discuss racism and discrimination in the country. I wasn’t really taking in the conversation, until my grandmother asked me if I knew the story of Emmett Till.
She explained to me the story of how he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of “offending” a white woman. My grandmother told me of how they took him, beat him, and mutilated him, before shooting him in the head and throwing him into a river. Emmett Till - a boy who looked my age - died because of his identity. My family showed me the picture of his face during his open casket funeral, and for the first time in my life, I felt – fear.
True fear. Not a trivial fear like of spiders or snakes, but the fear that I could lose my life, my family, or my friends because of what we looked like. Emmett Till’s story truly revealed to me the horrors that America tried its best to shield from the common eye.
In that car ride back from my grandmother’s home, I was scared, but I also felt the need to do something. But I did not know what that something looked like.
As I grew up, I involved myself in community organizations and leadership positions to help me discover that something to make the world a better place. However, it only seemed like the world was getting darker and darker. Racism and bigotry continued to raise its ugly head in the United States as Black lives like Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, and so many more were violently taken. I gradually began to learn more and more about Black history, and it opened my eyes to the fact that America couldn’t progress, while it refused to acknowledge the horrendous history that is still embedded within our institutions today.
In the face of this nation’s atrocities, I finally began to understand what my dad meant. Being Black and a woman determines the way I am perceived in society. Just going off my appearance, people see me as “loud” and “uneducated.” Being Black and a woman determines the way I view my safety. I have to take extra measures to ensure I don’t get pulled over or get into trouble, because the consequence may be my life. Being Black and a woman determines my work ethic. I have to work twice as hard as my white counterparts to get where I need to be. Being Black and a woman determines how I navigate the world.
I acknowledge the numerous barriers that may plague my future along with other people in my community. I want to dedicate my future to breaking down those barriers, to reach a point in society where families don’t need to remind their children of their identities because of the sociopolitical climate. That is the something I want to do.
Since hearing the story of Emmett Till and witnessing the ongoing murders of Black lives, the identities I hold still cause me to fear. But that something is worth more than my fear. Advocating for myself and others is worth more than my fear. The beauty of being Black and a woman is worth more than my fear.
I am grateful to the ACLU of Virginia for giving me this opportunity as an advocacy intern to learn more about the avenues through which change can be sought. I am eager to work to dismantle and eradicate systems that stand for racism and bigotry and create a world that uplifts equality and love.