It’s time to listen. Evansville Living has and always will be a platform to celebrate the good things about our city, but right now the best use of our platform is to amplify the voices that can speak directly to the black experience in our country, city, and community. Over the coming days, we will be giving our platform over to several community members who will share their experiences so that we can learn and grow together. Our role, and what we’re also asking of you, is simply to listen.
I don’t often dwell on my place in the world or my community, so jotting down thoughts about my experience as a black woman born and raised in Evansville was a challenge. As I ruminated on what I could say that might bring some measure of positive change, I focused on what I’ve experienced that I wouldn’t have if I weren’t black or any variation of different. I have a white father and black mother who both grew up in poor parts of Evansville. They worked very hard to give my brothers and me opportunities they didn’t have. For me, this meant participating in a competitive dance company for 10 years, multiple sports and camps, and attending an expensive private school from sixth through 12th grade. To me, I was just like everyone else and doing the same things as the other kids, but to many others I was — at least at first — different. And as I got older that became more and more clear, and it did not feel good.
What I don’t think many of my fellow Evansvillians understand or have perspective on is that when you’re a racial minority, being made to feel like “the other” is pretty common. I don’t think the people who made/make me feel that way do it purposefully or are bad people. They just haven’t taken the time to think about what it might be like to be the only one who looks like you in the room day in and day out. It can be isolating and frustrating and turn into conversations that are embarrassing. I need my Evansville neighbors to understand we are limited on diversity here, so there is extra work required to being informed and respectful. The preconceived notions you may have about black folks may not be based on reality, and blackness is not one, fixed, defining concept. A general understanding of those notions would save me from having to respond to humiliating questions like “Do you talk differently when you’re around black people,” “Can you teach me how to twerk,” “Is your hair real,” and “Where are you from originally?”
I’m from Evansville. I’m from a place that’s made up of a lot of good people. I wish more of those good people would take the time to try to understand what it’s like to be me, or a person of color they care about. That’s the first step toward a more positive, cohesive, and respectful environment for us all.
Janay Sharp is an Evansville native and serves as a regional development officer for Youth First, Inc.