I’m Tired of Being Black


Stop gasping. Yes, I did say, “I’m tired of being Black.” I bet you Obama is tired of being Black, too! Do my white friends get tired of being white? Do my rich friends get tired of being rich? I’m sure they don’t recognize the privilege that comes with their skin tone. How many times each day does my friend Pat remember that she’s white? Being an African-American, I may not be thinking about the fact that I’m Black, but you’d better believe that when I am out in public it is some asshole’s goal of the day to remind me. There have been several times in my life that I’ve been brutally reminded of my skin color after having forgotten about it. The most recent was two years ago when I was in the hospital. A nurse was treating me terribly, seemingly without provocation. I kept asking myself crazy questions, wondering if my illness was playing with my memory: Did I throw up on her? Did the blood that shot out from the IV get on her clothes? It was only later, when I heard her outside of the room talking to another nurse about “those Black people,” that I understood. I had done nothing to merit demeaning treatment from the nurse in charge of my care—other than the apparently unforgivable offense of being born with dark skin. Hell, it made me so mad that I decided to get better just so I could write a letter to the hospital’s CEO about her behavior!

I really wish I knew how it felt to be free.

A friend and colleague of mine, a highly respected researcher who does work around disparities in healthcare, was denied a grant recently, supposedly because she had not presented a strong enough case for the prevalence of racism among physicians, nor supplied a quantifiable means to chart it and extinguish it. Can there actually be someone in America who believes that racism does not exist in healthcare? This person must have no television, no radio, no newspapers. Here are the hard questions: Was she turned down because she’s a Black physician? Since she is at the top of the research game, it’s not her credentials, for they are impeccable. Or, is it the subject matter? Can we truly not come to grips with the fact that hospitals and physicians constantly contradict the Hippocratic Oath—i.e., the hypocritical oath.

Even better: A foundation I spoke to a few weeks ago said they were no longer putting money into disparity conversations or programs because Obama’s election to president was sufficient evidence that the race divide in America was well on its way to healing. Believe it or not, these are the kinds of utterly ridiculous conversations I have day after day.

I’m invited to many disparities conferences and meetings, but often, I’m the only brown person there. If I disagree with a statistic or the speaker’s point of view on how best to solve disparities issues, I automatically become the spokesperson for Black people, but I am attacked when I point out a contradiction. I once spoke to a predominantly white audience at a church (now, saying “predominantly white” is funny because, of the few hundred in attendance, there were only 5 people of color, and two of them were not Americans). I asked the congregation why were they there that day. Were they there to find out how they could be part of effective change, or were they there just for intellectual masturbation? You would have thought I’d asked them to take off all their clothes and run wild. As the audience proceeded to direct remarks to me about people of color, not one of my colleagues intervened on my behalf—nor did the moderator. One old lady said, “I’m tired of hearing about you people.”

I wish I knew what it felt like to be free.

Now, let’s talk about going to meetings and conferences where there are one or two other people of color. I call this THE ONE AND ONLY CLUB: Black people who exacerbate the problem. I am sick of being in a room in which there’s only one other person of color and they are afraid to look at me because I’m Black. It’s as though they’re afraid we’ll be perceived as a token minority, instead of as individuals, if we happen to acknowledge one another’s presence. Hell, when I’m in a room and I look across the room and someone’s looking at me, I always nod and give them a smile. I don’t care if they’re Black, purple or Klingon; I always nod and give them a smile. Why is it that, when I’m in the room with my educated brothers and sisters and I look in their direction, they stare right at me then look away, as if I am invisible? What the hell is that about? In those situations, if there’s some seriously ignorant stuff being said, I always try to dispel the absurd myths. “No, I wasn’t raised in a slum,” or, “Yes, I had a father.” However, the other person of color will act as if what I just said was from another planet. In so doing, they protect and condone systems that work directly against the interests of persons and communities of color. Or, there are Blacks who will directly express the belief that we are inferior (yes, I just said that! This is no typo). An idiot recently told me that my website (www.urutherighttobe.org) is as impressive as that of any white organization. Here I was, talking to a Black man who was genuinely surprised that my site was on par with a white organization’s—what does that mean? That I cannot be as good as my white colleagues? That I’m not expected to deliver the same quality product?

Do I sound like I’m tired, angry and a bit pissed off? Hear me loud and clear: I AM!!

From going to Washington and my post-conversation, I think there is a disconnect between policymakers and their constituents, the public they profess to care about. Sometimes I think I’m just getting older or more naïve. It’s amazing to me that any person of color survives in a system that is so dysfunctional, that offers them no voice, that actively minimizes whatever impact they might have. It’s no wonder that many people of color who are involved in this disparity conversation just don’t really say anything. They’ve been there; they’re discouraged; they have no desire to participate because they don’t think it will make a difference. For me, though, if I didn’t think I could make a difference, I would feel complicit in that system. I would feel as though I were enabling the disparate treatment toward sick persons of color. I just can’t do that; I won’t do that. I tell people that we all must stand up and fight. If it wouldn’t be good enough for mine, then it’s not good enough for anybody else’s. That’s the standard for me. It’s really that simple.

When I think about the deplorable state of healthcare in this country I always return to the breast and cervical program for women who don’t have insurance at Yale Hospital. They only see women perhaps four times per month. In other words, if you’re having an emergency, you’d better fall on that schedule—which is usually booked three months in advance. To visit the clinic on those four days of the month is to witness a process of dehumanization. Why can’t these women’s appointments be scheduled throughout the week, during the same hours that are convenient to women with insurance or private pay? To the people that funded this program: what were you thinking? Do you think these women only need services four times a month? Would you leave a woman you cared about in that kind of care? No! If it’s not okay for your women, why is it okay for these women? Why do doctors take pride in the fact that they donated some of their time “at a reduced rate” to programs of this kind, when they would never take pride in subjecting their loved ones to this breed of healthcare? Why does it have to be personal before people can feel anything?

What is exciting about the film The Deadliest Disease in America and its accompanying workshops is that it gives voice to individuals who were never given the opportunity to speak before. Have you ever noticed that policymakers, do-gooders and other decision-makers never actually converse with the persons they’re supposed to be representing or helping? One of the young Black men featured in the film was so excited to participate in this project. He said no one had ever asked him for his opinion, or listened to what he thought before. That is why my film is what real community/public health is about.

I’m tired of identifying people by race—that white person, that Puerto Rican, that Mexican, that Black person. Most of all, I’m tired of being Black; I’m tired of speaking about racism in healthcare; I’m tired of a world where we automatically make assumptions based on people’s skin tones, accents. I would like to live in a world in which I was not “Black” or “female” or “handicapped,” just a human being, just a child of God.

I wish I knew how it felt to be free.

I do not look in the mirror and see a Black woman in a wheelchair. When I think about my attributes, when I look at myself in the mirror, I do so with appreciation for the wisdom of God that guides me, the love of God that inspires me, and the life of God that enlivens me.




16 Responses to “I’m Tired of Being Black”

  1. Jaime Kuczewski Says:

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    ~Margaret Mead

    My hope for you is that you can gather strength from your many fans and admirers, to allow you to get through these times. I bellieve that you have, and will continue.. to make a difference.

  2. Perri Says:

    I just love good writing… period the end… I feel Ms. Emery… I feel her… she is an awesome writer… I am a fan of the conversational style as opposed to prose… I love Crystal’s style… and she is so eloquently (and humorously) putting a name and face on the disparity in health care…My favorite author writes like that… conversational… You just get inside the writing that way. I have this blog saved to my favorites.

  3. Perri Storey Says:

    As my grandmother would say, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” The truth is powerful… it just IS! There is no defense for truth. I feel your heart in this writing… and I know just where this is coming from…. it is not some self-loathing or self-pitying essay… it is from an EARNEST desire to be seen as more than your blackness… I can REALLY feel you on that one! A to the men!

  4. Lewis E Says:

    “I would like to live in a world in which I was not “Black” or “female” or “handicapped,” just a human being, just a child of God.”

    Crystal, when I look in the mirror I see a Black man. When there are no mirrors I feel one. I never want to give that feeling up.
    By my calculation my Blacknuss is the oldest thing I have: I was Black before I was male, before I was tall and lanky, an editor, a father. My Blackness and my humanity are an intertwined thread that stretches back to that handful of black mud God used to create Adam. (Or pick another story of creation if you wish: you will still find humans and the earth linked – have you ever seen white Earth?)
    My Blacknissss is a gift that has come down to me over the generations; one which I have given my son, and am trying to teach him to carry honorably.
    I don’t forget I am Black anymore than I forget I am male, anymore than I forget I am awake, anymore than I forget I am alive.
    There is no problem with my Blackness, it is infallible. My joy is that I get to wear it out into the street for all to see.


  5. Charlene Muhammad Says:

    The American Healthcare system is a $3 trillion dollar industry and almost one-quarter of the country’s GNP. Folks here in America spend more on healthcare than for any other commodity! Have you noticed that with all the talk of economic crisises and major banks, auto companies and the like running to Washington, DC for a piece-of-chicken-and-a-biscut bailout, pharmaceutical companies continue quietly building their empires?
    Disaparities in healthcare serves a greater purpose than simply keeping us down. Sick folk can’t work for CHANGE. Hence the status quo continues to go along as usual. Until all people regardless of race, creed, color or purpose on the planet recognize that the basic human right to live in optimal health is being lost- not at risk, but actually BEING lost- disparities will in healthcare will continue.
    Keep shouting out loud Sister Crystal. It is the catalyst that inspires more voices to do the same.

  6. Michelle Says:

    Ditto to Charlene’s comments! Keeps shouting it out loud, Crystal! Someone has to hear and everyone has to know! You’re our fearless leader on this disparities in health care fight, and we need you to keep your voice out there so we can do the same! A Luta Conitinua!

  7. Brittany Says:


    You are Courage incarnate.

    Thank You.

  8. joy l. Says:

    great writing. thank you.
    to lewis e: yes there is white earth (sand) and red earth (clay) there are all shade of earth

  9. cosiar Says:

    Say it loud I’m Black and I’m proud!…lol This articles is a bit silly. I suppose in the end the author wants live in a color blind society. I I have desire too, I love being and it is through god’s good graces that am so. I specific heritage, background , experience and racial identity and I prefer it recognized. If I have to deal with a few racists or prejudices so be it, it is worth.
    I do share you concern about the various disparities but I doubt seeing me as simple human will solve them. I do not think one races has nothing to do with his wealth does.

  10. Matthew Nemerson Says:

    A great saddness of my time away from New Haven professionally over the past nine years has been the inability to stay close to Crystal. It never fails that a conversation with her, a chance to see her work or the reading of her writings changes me in some way. Sometimes I wish that Crystal could be merely a talented friend who it is cool to know, but no, she is always dragging me out of my comfort zones and dumping me in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing me to quickly stand, brush the dirt away and hope that no one else has seen me fall. Because even if they cannot see, under my trousers my knees are skinned and the pain lasts a few hours at least.

  11. Crystal Says:

    Here is a comment from my niece, Monique:

    Good Morning Aunt Crystal,

    Just want to let you know that I’ve been reading your blogs. Rather
    interesting. I like them. Keep sending them.

    Favorite entry and favorite sentence. This is so true. I work for Health
    Net Insurance and sometimes I feel the same way.

  12. thedeadliestdisease Says:

    Here’s a response I got from “Justin”:

    Ma’am i read you article about hating being black.

    I used to be a very racist ignorant person [never a sexist] for reasons i didn’t understand myself, now I’ve dropped my bigotry and started being “colorblind”

    I’m a united states sailor and i say you and i are not black or white or male or female we are American and if we could ever be labeled by a color it would be Red, White, and Blue.

    If i saw you on the street I’d see another wonderful citizen of the great country that god so willingly lets us reside in.

    I just wanted to express what i thought about your article.

    I hope god blesses you forever and i hope one day i could meet you perhaps in heaven

    God Bless and Merry Christmas also Happy new year while I’m at it.

    • d Says:

      Man you have a long way to go still. I applaud you for recognizing your own blatant racism but it is the subtler form of organized racism that really needs to be broken. There are issues of race that have been existant since the creation of this country. If you dig a little deeper you may be shocked of our countries current bigotry.

      • thedeadliestdisease Says:

        Dear Sir,

        I am removing the article “Tired of Being Black” from my blog. I hope to soon replace it with something else.

        What I want to say to you is that you are not alone in your struggle. I am reading 2 wonderful books; Change of Heart by Fink and African Unconsciousness by Bynum. I recommend that you read both of these books. I must apologize because in saying that I am tired of being black I negate all of the positives that come with being black. I must constantly remind myself that we have chosen this journey and this spacesuit to learn something on the earth plane. I really believe that everyone is of African origin and we are all the shades of blackness. It is our blue-eyed brethren that are having difficulty with this understanding. There is something that you have asked to learn about the melanin in our bodies that create the dark hues and the contrast so you live in a world that is mostly Caucasian.

        Don’t get frustrated. Be proud of who you are and do not allow the negativity of others to bring you
        down to their level. If you do, then they have succeeded in their desire to make you feel unsure.
        When I am meditating I close my eyes and allow the darkness to engulf me and take me to my garden of Eden where there is fertile soil for the soul. In that darkness I reaffirm my faith in God and my connection to the African unconsciousness.

        Please read the two books I recommend and they will assist you with easing the pain.



  13. JC Says:

    Finally, someone put into words how I have been feeling all my life.

  14. d Says:

    I feel your pain. I’m a black male in Minnesota and I am a minority most places I go. I was private school educated all the way through college so I have been the minority all of my life. It has taken its toll on my psycological well being. Its like constantly being in a state of paranoia. You never feel comfortable untill your alone. I don’t want to be white I have too much wisdom from being a minority to be comfortable with that idea. I just want to be normal I just want a wife and kids a job and a house without the pressures of being black. Sometimes I wish I was dead

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