I won’t apologize for my blackness.

BY CAMRYN LELAND

It’s not my job to make you feel comfortable.

In an article written about the use of the n-word in the NFL it was stated, “The Story of the n-word, in many ways, parallels the overall story of race in America – from the bloody circumstances of its birth to the messy state of its present. The word is visible almost anywhere there is racial conflict: the lawless realm of social media, the vast landscape of pop culture,”… or the halls of Lake Oswego High School.

I’m Camryn Montana Leland but only my mother calls me Camryn Montana (usually when I’m in deep trouble). I moved to our lovely bubble of Lake O when I was 8 years old and I come from a multi-racial family. As a little kid I did not think being half black would have much of an impact on me, but oh boy, was I wrong.

I was a lot of people’s first black friend and their first insight to the “other side.” For the most part it’s been a pretty entertaining ride. One of the most important aspects about me is I am very passionate about social justice and ending discrimination and inequalities amongst people. This community has been one big case that I am finally ready to crack open.

I moved here just a week after my birthday in February of 2007. As we all know February is known for being Black History Month. Coming from a fairly integrated suburb in Las Vegas, my family was expecting our new school to be in full swing with teaching about important black figures as well as a bit of this history. Instead my elementary school had students wear two different shoes on a day in February to show “diversity.” When my mother, a sociology major, contacted the school to see if that was in fact the only thing we had done, she was given the optimistic statement of, “Mrs. Leland we currently do not have anything in place, but if you would like to create something to go into our curriculum bring it in!”

This is my first example of the racial microaggressions that occur in this town. Blacks have been living in Lake Oswego since 1927. For over 50 years black students have been attending schools in Lake Oswego, but my family was the first family to acknowledge the lack of black history month in school.

Nine years later and we are into the beginning of my junior year. For years now I have been battling with small exploitations towards black people. Whether it be the infamous statements about how my dad is “so black and intimidating” or how my hair is “so nappy and frizzy” getting this daily commentary is exhausting, and I often let it roll off my back. It was not until recently that a close friend reminded me that it is not o.k. to accept the ignorant mediocrity that this town has presented.

Fast forward, it’s the first home game of the 2015-2016 school year, and the student section is extra rowdy. Everyone is decked out in red white and blue and nerves are running high. The student section is larger than life and there is so much excitement and vigor. The Lakers are up at half time and our Laker Navy is loving every minute of it. A small lull in energy is quickly killed when we all hear Ray Charles’s croon over the heavy bass track Kanye’s laid. In seconds the entire student section is in full swing with “Gold Digger” not missing a beat or a word. “I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digga, but she ain’t messin’ wit no broke nigga!”

Oh, is there something wrong? Does reading the word nigga bother you? Why was it not censored from this article? I ask you, why wasn’t it censored from the mouths of hundreds of white students yelling out the lyrics that Friday night?

Let me explain to you why. It is called justification. For every “mistake or incident” there is a justification behind it. Because it’s “only a song” our ASB played the clean version everything is o.k. because that it is not promoting the use of the word nigga/nigger at all. Wake up Lake Oswego. While most of you were too wrapped up in the song and the fact that you were given the green light to openly yell the N word in public, there were black students and parents who were very angry and disturbed with what was occurring.

Instantly the song was stopped due to a black parent who, justifiably, called out whoever was playing the song, and from my perspective he was getting into the pockets of our ASB pretty well. Shortly after, the song was stopped and “Party in the USA” was put on.

Let’s pause and debrief this small interaction. Why would a grown man feel so compelled to go up to a group of kids and yell at them for their choice of music? Because the song they chose unveiled the relaxed atmosphere that has appropriated the use of the N word in Lake Oswego.

This town is known for it’s microaggressions as well as it’s obvious ignorance towards race, in particular black people.

A few years ago the Twitter account “Lake No Negro” was created by a few former football players, attacking another (black) football player. This player and his family felt so hurt by what had been done and by what little the community truly did to respond to this injustice that they moved to the Lakeridge side. This family was ostracized and demonized by our community because they had the courage to call out the blatant racism.

A crowd of infamously racist white kids should not be yelling song lyrics that reiterate nigga over and over again. Never has nigger been a term thrown at you offensively. Never has nigger been a slur yelled to your parents or grandparents. And if it has, then you understand the monstrous problem LO has with racial microaggressions.

For years I have grown up surrounded by people who do not look like me, and it is felt like living in a zoo. From the constant stares to the idiotic questions and ignorant statements. No, the other black person in the class is not related to me. Yes, I do in fact know my dad. No, it is not “unbelievable” that my mom is a white woman. No, there is no reason in pointing out the fact that he’s black, I imagine he is very aware. I can almost guarantee you asking her if you can use the N word just to “tell the joke right” is in no way going to be o.k. with her.

It’s not okay to use that word. Unless you are willing to own the entire historical context it comes from, and stand behind calling one of us the most degrading, dehumanizing words that has evolved from our American history then be quiet.

My life, as well as the other black members of this community, are not spectacles to ask constant questions about. We grow up in the same community, earning the same education, are a part of the same teams and exist in the same society. We get up every morning and get ready to face the day the same way you do, only due to the complacent ignorance, we have to take an extra step to ensure we are truly ready to handle all that the day may throw at us. Constantly I feel as though I’m always on edge, ready to shoot down racist comments like, the use of the n word, ignorant comments relating to my dad and his “blackness” or even my hair.

Call me the token, charged up black girl, on her soapbox preaching about injustice. If there was no problem with injustice and these racial microaggressions you would not hear me speak out.

I am exhausted from dealing with the ignorant members of our community that feel they have been given the a-okay to continue to spew racial slurs. It is time that Lake Oswego takes responsibility for this communal ignorance it has allowed to fester. It is not o.k. for minorities in Lake Oswego to be singled out. We have just as much right to live and thrive in this town as any white person does.

“It’s not my job to make them feel comfortable.”

My dad has said this periodically throughout my life, and it is the most powerful thing he has ever said to me. He is absolutely right. It is in no way our job to make you, white America, feel comfortable. We are not your black google. We also do not have to accept mediocrity from the community we live in. So Lake Oswego this is me calling you out on your racist, complacent behavior. The excuses must end and it is time we, minorities and whites, address the massive elephant in the room that is the cultivated ignorance in our community.

3 thoughts on “I won’t apologize for my blackness.”

  1. Thank you for this Camryn, I am both happy that you wrote this and so sad that you had to write it at all.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

    This quote is normally held up as an inspiration but, today, its sentiment seems disappointing and inadequate to me. It is desperately frustrating and unacceptable that, in 2015, there are still so many trails to blaze; and that the burden of blazing them falls on those who did not create the obstacles in their way.

    Your story about the lack of curriculum or preparation for Black History Month said it all: “Mrs. Leland we currently do not have anything in place, but if you would like to create something to go into our curriculum bring it in!”

    I’m so sorry that the onus is on your mother to create something and bring it on in, that the onus is on you to speak out and crack open the world you live in, that the burden of responsibility falls to those in our communities who are the objects of racism (and sexism, and classism, and homophobia, and a hundred other prejudices and isms and phobias). We all can and should do more and better. We all need to crack open our worlds and our minds, blaze the trail for everybody and lay a new landscape. We need to get uncomfortable and ACT upon that discomfort. I’m sorry the path wasn’t laid for you long ago but I thank you for speaking out and I hope that people read and hear you.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah Reeves

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