Photo Credit © Michael Anthony Ingram
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his Dream, Dr. W.E.B. Dubois fortified our Souls, James Baldwin started a Fire, Toni Morrison sang her Song, and I restored my Black Skin.
When I wake in the morn and the world knows not my name just the color of my skin I’se still be me
What does it mean to be Black? My time on earth has afforded me the opportunity to realize that knowing that I am Black is not enough. Simply, knowing that I am Black does not help me to move away, ‘With all deliberate speed’ from a state of complacency, which often has been propagated by historical and present-day colonizing practices. Knowing that I wear black skin means that I need to take a serious look at myself and critically analyze how racism (internal and external), discrimination, and prejudices from implicit bias, have shaped my way of being. Furthermore, it means that I need to acknowledge that oppression, in many instances, has drained me of physical, cultural, spiritual, psychological, and emotional health.
My black skin is a gift from God carved delicately from obsidian
I realize that in some circles I may be viewed as a success story, a black man born on the blighted south side of life, who overcame many odds to attain the American educational dream–a doctoral degree. I still ask myself what cultural norms did I give up to succeed? A permanent fog seemed to cover me –isolated events did not jar my cultural or emotional consciousness until I moved to Corvallis, Oregon in 1997. It was in Oregon (a state where only a small percentage of Blacks live) that I was quickly forced out of the false sense of Black middle-class comfortableness that I had worked so hard to attain. It was in Oregon that I was compelled to awake like a fire burning at my door. I was finally forced to look at the harsh reality of my existence–specifically, the subtle and not so subtle forms of racism that surrounded me daily and gazed at me with two piercing eyes.
When I breathe in this life which is sometimes fraught with stress and pain pain that wracks my aching heart I don’t complain
Based on my personal experiences, as well as the critical reflections that emerged from living in Oregon, I can honestly say I feel as if I am in recovery. Not recovery from drug addiction or gambling, but recovery from the learned white colonialist epistemology that I had unconsciously accepted and embraced as gospel. Not the biblical doctrine of prophets such as John or Luke, but the traditional gospel of different prophets, namely, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – men who professed to love all humankind (if humankind was white) and democracy for all (if you were considered to be more than three-fifths of a man).
In essence, I had adjusted to the skin that I wear, which sadly meant that I had accepted my place in society. “I am Black, what else do you need to know?”
I know that many died and fought so that I could walk, head high, and free and envision a future and promise that even with broken verbs, and subsequent disdainful looks
As I have learned to reflect critically, my emotions flow through me like the currents of a raging river. The level of consciousness that I feel inside continues to grow–moving me in directions that are yet to be charted. Like those before me who followed the north star, I must continue–hoping to reach my quest of real understanding about what happened to Blacks in America, what happened to American democracy in general, and most importantly, what happened to me? I weep tears of both anger and joy. Anger that I feel ‘raises my blood pressure’ and is often ‘Hotter than fish grease.” Joy because I finally understand why the anger I feel ‘raises my blood pressure’ and is justifiably “Hotter than fish grease.” You see, I believe the term “Angry Black Man” is a misnomer and a convenient catch-all phrase to spray paint on any Black man who challenges the dominant discourse. The name does not lend itself to open communication, understanding, or processing the tangible evidence that institutionalized racism and discriminatory practices may lead someone to feel angry. I firmly do not believe a person walks through life being “angry” for no apparent reason. There was a catalyst or cause, and the goal should be to find it, confront it, and heal it.
I can still sail on gossamer wings
Still, despite the many challenges I faced, I firmly believe living in Oregon for over fourteen years was a godsend. In Oregon, I learned how to raise the roof in thunderous joy, how to scream, how to howl, how to moan, how to express myself through the power of poetry. Poetry provided me with an outlet to metaphorically shout. Screaming through metaphor allowed me to harness my emotional energy and channel it in healthy and productive ways. I feel that my time there was well spent. I believe my experiences afforded me the opportunity to examine my past, my peoples’ past, and the pasts of those who perpetrated against my people and our history. Along the journey, I made many friends and allies, people who supported the core attributes of dignity, respect, integrity, value, and equality (DRIVE). These individuals, regardless of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, etc., worked hard to change the status quo and open doors for all. It was not the color of my skin that made these people rally around me when I suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, as well as spent time in a nursing home. No, it was their deep concern and underlying genuine regard for their friend and colleague: Me.
One of my fondest memories is the first time I visited one of my fellow faculty members at his home. It was the first time that I met the youngest child of one of my colleagues. A beautiful blond-haired, cherubic little girl, three years of age. I was so nervous about driving to their home. All I could imagine was the terror of being the only Black man in their community and home.
It was evening, and I approached their front door with trepidation, I rang the doorbell, and the little girl opened the door. Subsequently, her dad picked her up and said, “This is Michael.” She stared at me with the gaze I had become so overly familiar with. I said to myself, “Here it comes? Some incredulous statement about my skin. So I waited, and she looked at me, pointed, smiled, and said.” You’ve got a gap between your teeth.” That was it. She saw the gap, and to her, that was the fascinating thing about me. I was no longer the object du jour, a male version of Sarah, the Venus Hottentot. I was Michael, nothing more and nothing less.
Up from slavery up from degradation up from segregation up from marginalization up from fear
The metaphoric train has stopped–the destination reached. I moved to Washington, DC in 2010. Surprisingly, a city where I initially experienced a different form of culture shock; although a native of North Carolina (where many Black people live), I had to reacclimate myself to a multicultural environment. I often wondered “Do I fit? Will I fit?” The answer was a resounding yes! Because I realized that I wear my Black skin, my Black skin no longer wears me. So, I will continue my journey and carry my dignity and integrity with me wherever I go…
Because I’se still be me.
© Michael Anthony Ingram
Who is Michael Anthony Ingram?
Photo Credit © Michael Anthony Ingram
Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram is a retired university professor
and social change activist. A Washington DC resident, he is committed to employing the arts, specifically poetry, to disseminate information and raise awareness about issues related to power, identity, and oppression. Known widely as the Counselling Poet
He has gained an international reputation as a spoken word artist and performance poet. A 2015 Pushcart poetry prize nominee, he has travelled extensively, reciting his works and conducting workshops on building cultural competency and empathy skills through poetry and metaphor.
He is the host and producer of the Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio podcast
Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram
Founder and Executive Director of the DC Poetry Project,
Host and Producer of the Quintessential Listening: Poetry