By Sharee Nurse | Contributor
To tell you about my experience at Taylor, I have to describe what preceded my time here. I grew up with a lot of shame about the color of my skin. I often felt angry at God for putting me in a black body rather than a white one. I hid from the sun because I didn't want a tan, and my hair was always pulled back because I didn't like the way it drew attention to my blackness. I had been taught that racism was dead and that no one saw color, but somehow people saw it enough to point it out. I remembered it when people yelled slurs at me in school and on my walk home, and when friends told me I was the whitest black person they'd ever met and when neighbors in my white neighborhood threw barbeque and corn onto my front lawn. It didn't take the form of a noose or chains, but rather subtle blows. And I thought I deserved it because to be black was to be bad.
So at Taylor, most of my freshman year was spent finally unpacking the shame I had carried for so long, because for most of my life, it had just felt normal. I had to unlearn so many false narratives about myself and God and people. As much as I'd like to say that it was easy, it wasn't. It hurt and it was frustrating. Reshaping a whole part of my identity was hard.
Sophomore year, I thought I had arrived. I had dealt with all my racial baggage and I was ready to be a bridge builder. I started having more conversations with people, I joined the Black Student Union cabinet and I had more confidence. But eventually I entered conversations that were not so open, I met people who were unaware of the issues and I heard about the shootings of unarmed black men. Instead of reverting back to familiar shame, I got angry. I got angry at white people who didn't get it and wouldn't engage. I got angry at white people who did get it, because they could never truly understand what it felt like to be black. I realized that trying to fix everything was a fast track to burnout and frustration.
Junior year was recovery. It was trying to give myself grace for not being over the race thing as much as I thought I was. It was also having grace for others, realizing that God, not me, changes the hearts of men. It was giving myself the space to feel. It was finding mentors and friends, both black and white, who let me be upset, angry and confused.
So here I am, senior year, president of the Black Student Union, still trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out what it means to engage in conversation without feeling like I have to, because I don't. Trying to figure out when to speak and when to listen. I've come to think that I won't ever "arrive"-not in this world-because when it comes to identity, the struggle comes in waves. Each time, I hope that I'll have better ways to overcome it and find more safe places to rest.
I'm incredibly thankful for the mentors, professors and friends who have been safe spaces. I'm thankful for Beyoncé's "Lemonade" because it makes me proud to be a black woman. Most of all, I'm thankful for the willingness I've seen in so many people at Taylor to challenge their ways of thinking and be more open-minded about things. We're not there yet, and there's still work to be done, but it's a process, and there is grace for us all.