Feeling My Blackness

I’m blessed enough to have a job that allows me to work remotely. While I typically don’t use this much during the year, I do make use of the privilege during the holiday season in order to score some savings on travel. Of course, it presents for me the amazing opportunity to spend more time than the average person with my family in Detroit. For the past two years, I’ve utilized this perk to my benefit… and my detriment. Because despite having a fantastic time reconnecting in Detroit with family and friends, I return to Boston and am almost immediately hit with racially-induced depression. “Racially, what?!” is what you’re probably asking right now. I’m getting to it.

I’ve used a lot of ink talking about my depression; so much so that I’m not going to bother doing any self-promotion on my previous works. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that I only write when I’m “going through it” as a coping mechanism for whatever emotions I’m experiencing. It’s a somewhat disheartening thought that I can only write meaningfully when my spirit feels meaningless. Although, I suppose it’s a healthier outlet than hookers and blow. You know, just to put things into perspective. I very rarely write so that other people can read. I write to express what’s going on in my head to myself as a release of emotion. Sometimes because I don’t believe anyone will care what I’m feeling. Sometimes because I just need to release pent up negative emotion. Regardless, there’s an immense satisfaction in being able to express exactly what I’m feeling.

Right, racially-induced depression. How does this happen and why does it only happen going to Boston from Detroit and not vice-versa? There’s a sense of isolation I experience living the lifestyle I do in the city of Boston. Yikes, that sounds pretentious. What I’m trying to get it at is that a combination of location, profession, faith, and hobbies often find me as the only black person in the circles I travel through. This has minimal effect on me psychologically with the identity of the circle is hobby-based, like my MIT friends. I’m just one of the homies. But when there is a strong racially- or ethnically-based culture, like my church or job, assimilation becomes a challenge for me, especially because I have a bias towards introversion. However, in Detroit, despite not being of the culture, I am welcomed in it and I feel as though I can travel with the security of knowing that my acceptance is based on who I am and not what I look like. When I return from Detroit, where my belonging is assumed, to Boston, where my belonging has cycled through various levels of tension, the disparity in the effort required for me to assimilate into the culture is oppressive. My relationship with Boston has always felt somewhat tenuous but for the first three months of the past two years, I have openly wondered if I belong here. Here being my church. Here being my job. Here being this city.

My job is my job. I knew that being an engineer in tech meant being a black man in a predominantly white space. But oftentimes, black people have a prejudicial tendency to make white people monolithic. Frankly, it’s not that different than what anyone does for any other race. Well, let me be the one to tell you: white people in Boston are absolutely not the same as white people in Detroit. Why? Because the cultures of the cities are different. I am not convinced that a significant number of white people I see everyday here are used to talking to a black person. Hell, I don’t even know that some of these folks have even spoken to a black person the way they look at me sometimes. In Detroit, knowing black people is the status quo. While Detroit may have it’s political struggles that can at times fall on racial lines, most interpersonal relationships are great because the racial attitudes have evolved naturally as a result of greater (but not perfect) intermingling of ethnicities. Frankly, I cannot count on how many times at work, en route to public transit, or walking in Greater Boston have I seen people openly observing me or regarding me with suspicion. My alma mater, MIT, has always been exempt from that assessment, which is a true testament to the culture fostered by the Institute.

Church, is decidedly more complex. The church is a community where I as a Christian can work to hone my focus that I may more adequately (or less inadequately) glorify God as part of a corporate body. Yet, when I return to Boston after the holidays or at other points throughout the year, I find myself feeling as though I exist on a parallel plane of existence with respect to the rest of the Cornerstone community. As in anime, where after a convention I describe myself as an observer not a fan, at church there are times where I feel like I am more mere attendee than congregant. There’s no real way to rationalize this feeling. It doesn’t make sense. I love being at Cornerstone. But at times, it certainly feels like not being an Asian-American man has limited my ability to develop meaningful relationships with a circle of guys; relationships where the details on our lives flow bidirectionally. Instead, I feel more like a stray sheep being fed before my shepherd returns to bring me back to my metaphorical herd.

I don’t know what to do with this. I know the words I’ve written here are extremely hurtful to many people I truly love. Yet, it’s exactly how I feel in these moments of racially-induced depression. What is the solution? Find more black people in Boston? Open up more? Find different hobbies? Learn Korean? I have no idea how to change this. This isn’t an Acts 6 situation where a group of Christians are neglected systematically. This is just me. The fuck is wrong with me? I’m tired of feeling alien. Cast my burdens on the Lord? This shit’s like an assembly line and my shoulders are the resting place of the finished product. The scars of churches’ past create the burdens for the church of the present I suppose.

If you read this stream of consciousness, more power to you. I only pray that one day I can be so filled with joy that I feel compelled to write a piece that simply says “look at what the Lord has done for me.” One genuine, no-BS, five minute piece like this one. Because in that day, the trivialities of feeling my blackness melt away into becoming an component of who I am and not the overt shell of my inner self.

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