First-gen Afro-Latina Dr. Angel Jones is an educator, activist, and critical race scholar whose research explores the impact of racism on the mental health of Black students with a focus on racial microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue, and gendered-racism.
“I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.”
– Audre Lorde
I begin with this quote from the incredible Audre Lorde because, like her, I believe it is my duty to speak truth to power. And not because I want to, but because my community needs me to. Because little Black girls who question the beauty of their natural hair need me to. Because Black women whose competency is questioned at work need me to. Because Black students who are made to question their intelligence need me to. Because future doctoras who question their place in academia need me to. Because Afro-Latinas who question the value of their Blackness need me. And because the truth is the answer to the questions that are currently preventing them from walking in their own truth.
But what does it mean to speak truth to power? In my book, Street Scholar: Using Public Scholarship to Educate, Advocate, and Liberate I explain:
Speaking truth to power is the audacity to educate unapologetically without permission or concession. It is the willingness to teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is the boldness to bring to light what the system wants to keep in the dark. It is the nerve to rock the academic boat because you wear the truth like a bulletproof lifejacket. It is the courage to challenge the violence of silence. And it is the wholehearted belief that the truth is worth fighting for.
Fighting for the truth, especially the ability to walk in my own truth, is like fighting for my life because the two are inextricably intertwined. The truth is that I am a Black woman who exists in a world that sees me as a threat, while simultaneously existing en una comunidad that doesn’t see me at all.
I exist in spaces where I oscillate between being hyper-visible and hyper-invisible, neither of which instills a sense of pride. And the truth is that I am exhausted, both physically and psychologically. But what I am not, is willing to allow any of it to keep me from being unapologetically proud of who and what I am.
I am a proud Puerto Rican and if you’ve ever been to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, you would know I’m not the only one. No one bats an eye when they see Puerto Rican flags covering car hoods and hubcaps or hanging from rearview mirrors. No one wonders why the man on the corner is selling beaded Puerto Rican necklaces while blasting “Que Bonita Bandera” from his boombox. And no one questions the girl dancing salsa in the street while rockin’ a “proud Boricua” t-shirt with the matching bandana. But what if her shirt said Afro-Boricua instead and she repped her Blackness as proudly as she reps la isla? Having pride in our Puerto Rican heritage is not just accepted, it’s expected. However, pride in our African heritage is rarely met with the same level of enthusiasm.
When I think of unapologetic pride, I think of a sense of pride that withstands suppression and rejection. I think of a sense of pride in something you were socialized to ignore or deny. Or worse, something you were taught to be ashamed of. And for many Afro-Latinas, this is the case with regard to our Blackness. I was fortunate to be raised by a mom who told me to be a proud Black woman, but her words were unable to shield me from anti-Blackness back then and they still can’t protect me now. But what does protect me is the truth because it allows me to counter the false narratives that were created to fill me with doubt and shame instead of joy and pride. The truth protects me from believing que tengo “pelo malo.” It protects me from having to focus my love life on “mejorando la raza.” It protects me from fearing that the sun will “ponerme preita.” And it protects me from all of the lies that were designed to make me question the beauty of my Blackness.
As Alton Brown said, “I’m Blackity, Black, Black. If you don’t like that, you whackity, whack, whack.”