Living in Intersectionality

By: Sarah Downs

It happened at 9:15 PM on a Wednesday night in my small town. I had just left a friend’s house and was on my way through the small town I live in when about a quarter mile ahead of me I saw flashing blue lights. The rush came over me and I without really thinking about it, make a quick turn to go the long way home and avoid passing the blue lights. It’s the kind of rush you feel at the drop of the rollercoaster, or the jump scare in a movie, except there’s a stronger aftermath, and the anxiety could last for hours. This happens to me often, despite my intersectionality, despite living in the in-between where privilege can come on the fringes. The rush still overcomes and brings me to tears several hours later in the safety of my warm bed. 

I have always lived in the in-between. I am bi-racial, but grew up only knowing my white birth mother, and my white grandmother. There were no powerful, strong brown or black women in my life. There were no brown or black people in my life until I was well into high school. And even today, my exposure to the African American community is still limited. And yet here I am, brown enough to experience racism and microaggressions. And also light enough to be considered “too white” from peers and to hold a certain amount of privilege over others. It’s in this in-between that I live, and it’s in this perspective that I’m learning there is so much to unpack and share. 

The pain and trauma that remains in communities of color across the United States is still felt and held by me. Although, I did not grow up around of people of color, the pain I feel from my past experiences still holds onto my heart and the fear I have that causes the snap, quick reactions out of a derivative of fear clutch onto my being. The pain of not knowing my own African American history is sad. I have never met my father and couldn’t even tell you his name but yet I still have the knowledge that my ancestors experienced years and years of oppression and continue to face the challenges of it today. I still have the knowledge that the pain I have felt from my own personal run ins with marginalization are just the iceberg of what others go through. I am painfully aware that being bi-racial allows me to have more privilege than my darker brothers and sisters due to colorism and Eurocentric standards of beauty. And all of this, the pain, knowledge, and lack thereof overwhelm me often. 

But I think the worst of it is the feeling of not belonging. I have never truly felt apart of anything. I’ve never been able to fit in with other African Americans because I act “too white” but yet I am “too black” to be white. And when I participate in African American activities or clubs, no matter how welcoming people are, I still feel as though I’m an imposter. I know, it’s a lot. And on top of that I am seeing brown and black people racially profiled, killed at traffic stops, or on the street, or still called racial slurs at a local restaurant. I live in the home of the confederacy and cannot help but think of all the unmarked graves. I went to school in the county that was home to the massive resistance, and I cannot help but think of all of those who remain uneducated in my community, if I can even call it mine. 

I think at the end of the day living in intersectionality has taught me that the world is scary, and that we are told too often that we are not enough. The trauma and fear of the police I have is from seeing, with my own two eyes, what some of the world believes, which is that brown and black people are not valued. I have seen through words and actions that we are not enough. But I’m tired. I’m tired of fear, and I’m tired of living as though I will never be enough. The rush and intersectionality of my life confuses and overwhelms me, but one thing I will no longer have it do is discourage me. I am committed to playing a pivotal role in changing history through acknowledging my own privilege and using it to transform my own pain into work that will eventually benefit others. But most of all I am committing my advocacy work to reminding brown and black people from all walks of life and backgrounds that they ARE ENOUGH. To uniting communities of color in the rooted knowledge that we are enough because we can no longer live divided and remain in fear alone. 

Sarah Downs is double majored in political science and public health. She serves as a student representative on the P.R.I.D.E committee on campus and is working on the 2020 national election. She is committed to bettering communities through her work in healthcare, education, and through her political involvements at the local, and state levels. She hopes to continue to generate positive changes in the SU community as well as the community she resides in. Say hi to her if you see her on campus, she’d love to get to know you. 

Author: The Buzz

The official site of Shenandoah University's student newspaper, The Buzz.

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