If you're a POC (person/ people of color), particularly black, then you're all too familiar with the proverbial sayings "you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they got" or "Whatever they do, you must do better." Legendary black scholars, such as WEB Dubois, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, to name a few, spent their careers elucidating on the complexities of what it means to be Black in amerika, compounded with the burden of respectable politics in a society in which one's humanity is constantly questioned, weighed, and maligned. These same narratives transcend and can be applied more broadly to the experiences of other POCs who also inherit the burden of having to be exemplary, where mediocrity is often rewarded through an exclusive system known as white privilege.
Donald Trump's recent decision to suspend DACA, a program that grants work permits to young undocumented immigrants and protects them from deportation, was infuriating to me to say the least. I was disheartened, though not surprised, by a decision that primarily affects young Latino/Latina Dreamers pursuing their education and the betterment of their lives, face the uncertainty of their status in the only country they know as home. As public backlash from Tiny Hands' decision swept the country, political correspondents and public discourse often expounded on the narratives of these young Dreamers who were mostly in school, excelling in education, at the top of their classes, and hard workers who have never been in trouble with the law or a problem in society. I often heard people say "But she's a straight A student" or "90% of them are in college and are tax payers that significantly contribute to America's economy." Although these characteristics ring with truth and are incredibly admirable, I found them to be slightly problematic in highlighting the underlining issue of respectable politics and 'exemplary' status that so many POC have to concern themselves with. That validating our humanity and citizenship is contingent on a rigged system of perfection we must embody.
It's the same sentiment I take issue with in regards to the killing of unarmed black men and women by police officers whose families must counteract and restore the image of their loved ones because white racist society has labeled them "thugs" or felt their murders were justified. Trayvon Martin's parents wept about how great of a kid their son was who had dreams of being a pilot when media labeled him as a "thug with a hoodie on." And when 16 year old Chanel Petro-Nixon was brutally murdered in 2006, her parents, in desperation, pleaded with the police to investigate her murder by showing them her report card to convey how their daughter was an honor student in order for police to take her disappearance seriously; desperately decrying "She's not that kind of girl" (read Cheryl Neely's "You're Dead, So What?").
POC don't owe you shit.
We don't have to be at the top of our classes. We don't have to be valedictorians. We don't have to always be extraordinary. We don't have to constantly be polite and Saints for fear of the illuminating shadow that casts down on us, stereotyping us as angry and criminal. We don't have to straighten our hair, remove our hijab, mitigate our dispositions, suppress our culture or build walls that seek to comfort and enable white fear and fragility.
No, POC don't owe you a thing. Not when the Dylann Roofs, Eric Harris, and Adam Lanzas of amerika are responsible for some of the most brutal mass shootings and are not labeled as terrorists. Not when kkk cops are acquitted from executing black unarmed bodies and are not viewed as thugs. Not when white brutality remains unscathed and unquestioned.
Yet, we as POC must diligently defy stereotypes in order for our humanity and even victimization to be acknowledged. To prove our Worthiness. Our Patriotism. Our Citizenship. As if we must fulfill some narrative expectation lest we be summarily dismissed. Because the demand for exceptionalism for POC is rooted in racism, whereby Ta -Nehisi Coates once affirmed "racism is raising the bar for one group while lowering the bar for another."
Dreamers have a right to live in this country, whose status should not loom with uncertainty and in the hands of Congress. Just like blacks have the right to live without fear of becoming the next hashtag after a routine traffic stop. We don't have to be exceptional in order to...Be.
So let us Be while leaving us be.
We don't owe you shit.
-Written by Jewell Bell