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To Whom It May Concern: On Being Black

Written by Dr. Nancy Nelson



To you who have discovered the shell I leave behind, plain brown and now still, and to the few with tears to shed and to the ones who ask why, I leave this explanation. I wish it were simpler for you and apologize for its length. If I was simply having problems or if my heart were broken from a fallen love, you could say, “Ah, poor thing. Why didn’t she get some help?” and then return to your life.


But my story is long and deep. Many times I have asked, cried, begged for your help. Perhaps you did not know how to help or you did not hear. I think more that you did not understand the depth of my pain or the exhaustion of my struggle. After reading these pages you still may not understand.  Even now that causes me to cry out in agony.


It wasn’t you alone who shut your eyes. Nor do I blame you for failing to save me from taking my life. I have journeyed through this pain long enough to know that you do not recognize it and may not still. But you at least deserve an explanation for the coldness of this form that has hopefully been found with eyes closed so that no one must look into their faded darkness.


I have chosen not to be politically correct as I have had to live. As I will not be here to hear the judgment that is placed upon me, I do not care. It is this caring that has helped to bring me to this place, or to this time would perhaps be more accurate. By now you may not even be caring of the language that I use as long as I get to the reason so that you will be able to complete the paperwork, close the chapter and go on.


Even with my skin now an ashen tone, it is obvious that I am or was a woman of color, an African American, a Black woman, a sista!, a girlfriend!, a Negro, a Negress, a descendant of slaves, former slaves, and from rich African kingdoms. Less obvious is my being a descendant from people without color, Caucasians, European Americans, whites, slave owners, enslavers, brutal people from Europe who I have never known and who have displayed no interest in knowing me. I dutifully learned their collective histories during the many years that I was forced to receive what was said to be a well-rounded, accurate education of history. So I feel that I have given them enough of my time, mind, and energy, enough of my life.


As I think about it, it is due to this side of my ancestry that I have taken my life.  How can I blame you in your ignorance, you who I have never met, when it was my hand that accomplished this deed? There is really no one else to blame. I am now, I pray, at peace; a peace I have never known in life.


Now you may be demanding of me an explanation, direct and honest, since you now feel accused and responsible. You are weary of the tales of how black skinned people suffer, do without, are treated as unequals and on and on. Yet have you ever thought of what I have lived because of your racism, your ideas, the treatment I have had to endure from you? I cannot wholly blame you, not personally, because I do not even know you. And you are, of course, not responsible for the choices I have made nor the direction my life has taken.


You did not force me to dig so deeply into history that I covered my ears, screaming the suffering of millions of ancestors who wanted to be heard, who wanted everyone to know that even in death they could not find rest. Rest can only come when their stories have been heard. They rushed at me to tell them but it was too much for me, so much all at once that I cried out with them. I ran leaving them still in their disturbed darkness.


Though it was not my will, I had to go back. It was my destiny to hear them, to help them, to attempt to free them. But they had to slow down. They had to talk to me one at a time of lost sons and daughters, of longing to find fathers and mothers, of rapes and sales and laboring hard in the fields. They could not just tell of their lashings but held me down so I would feel each blow while staring into the twisted face of the one doing the deed. My back bled. My voice was gone from ignored screams. My eyes were drained of tears. I, as they had, eventually stopped begging for mercy, for there was none in the eyes of the one who unleashed his fury on my back after having risen from lying between my legs.