Relationships

Finding My Own Expressions of Blackness

finding my own expressions of blackness

Growing up in predominantly white spaces was tough, not just because I was the only Black person in my classroom, but because I was constantly being told I was doing it wrong…

One of my first memories was in first grade. I was the middle of explaining my favorite part of the Lion King when I was interrupted by a classmate: “Why do you sound so…white?” I’m not sure what they expected me to say, but even at five, I was already used to hearing it. I heard it most often from various older family members, and at such a young age, I wasn’t equipped to properly defend myself. Thus began the complex relationship with who I was as a person, and who I was as a Black person.

I began to think I was inherently wrong — all wrong — everything single thing about me, and I kept it all to myself because I assumed every person I knew thought the same thing about me. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

“You speak so properly,” my mom’s friends would chuckle, with inquisitive looks. This, after I finally found the courage to say something in public. “Why do you like this kind of music?” my mom asked me, when I played Switchfoot as we drove to the grocery store. When you’re in a place where nobody looks like you (like a classroom, a city, a state), and they’re telling you something’s wrong with you, you believe them. When you’re in a place where everyone looks like you (like a household, a family reunion, a church), and they’re telling you something’s wrong with you, you believe them. White supremacy had sunk its teeth into my classmates, my own family and myself, and I eventually had to learn to confront it. But first I needed validation that who I was was ok — a flare in the dark. I craved something that flew in the face of this idea of levels of Blackness — a supposed monolith — or the idea that if I didn’t fit within its walls, I was in no man’s land.

I remember reading Ashley C. Ford’s story about embracing her beautiful Black body with her white boyfriend, and her unapologetic love for Kenny Loggins’s music, and clung to it. I read essays by Samantha Irby and Bassey Ikpi and healed layers of myself I didn’t know were wounded. I read Song of Myself by Walt Whitman to discover my inherent glory as a human being and listened to anthems by Lizzo, to know the worth of my bigger Black body.

It took me years into adulthood to fully come to terms with myself, to no longer be the shy cousin at family gatherings who didn’t speak much for fear of teasing, to dump white friends who relied on my discomfort as the “White Black Girl” of the group, for their entertainment. I started to make room for my own expressions of Blackness, which sometimes includes listening to the best of 90s Punk Rock. My Blackness doesn’t have to look like that of my Black colleagues, my mother’s, my father’s or my relatives who looked like me but didn’t sound like me. It is much less about learning how I should be and more about affirming the person I am, explaining her favorite part of The Lion King, uninterrupted.

P.S. How I feel right now as a Black woman and how Ashley Ford found her personal style.

(Photo by Aaron Siskind.)

  1. Akiiki says...

    This is so beautiful and necessary❤❤❤

  2. Amy says...

    The last part of this piece – about how identity is about self-affirming who we are – especially spoke to me. Kim, thank you so much for sharing this1

  3. vanessa m. says...

    lovely post kim! thank you for sharing. learning about your experiences growing up always gives me a lot of food for thought, and I’m in awe of the amazing things you are doing for yourself and others <3

  4. Kaira Cooper says...

    I find it so interesting that there are other Black women like me, who grew up like me, who neither fully fit into “the white world” or “the black world” and are not biracial. WE are the community that we needed when we grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. When we tell our stories, my fervent prayer is that a little or teenage black girl will read them and internalize that she belongs somewhere to a community of Black women just like her.

  5. Melani says...

    As the “white black girl” in my friend group / family, this really resonated. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Maria says...

    Thanks for sharing, Kim 💙

  7. I loved reading this, thank you for sharing yourself with us. It definitely makes me think about the things that I might say without thinking that could make someone feel the way you did. It also makes me think more consciously about conversations with my kids as we figure out our place in the current climate and what we need to do to educate ourselves.

    • Melanie says...

      Loved reading this personal essay and loved this comment, because I’ve also been thinking A TON about my kids and how I’m talking to them about race. We are on our second kit from Ripple Reads (www.ripplereads.com) and it’s really helping make these conversations easy and fun!

  8. Jenna says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Kim!

  9. Courtney says...

    I love your posts, Kim!

  10. A says...

    Hurrah, another post from Kim! Always makes my day when I see another story from Kim is up.

  11. Kat Rosa says...

    Omgosh, thank you for writing & sharing this! So much is packed into a succinct, beautiful piece. I feel like I should read it several times just to absorb the layered ideas.

  12. britt says...

    Kim–you are PREACHING TO ME! I’m from a town in Mississippi and was the only black kid in my class for years in a small private christian school. by the time I got to high school, I was too white for black kids and still reminded that I was black by white kids—-not to mention extended family commenting on my “whiteness” as well.

    It has been quite the road as a young adult and onward to take ownership of my black womanhood and know I don’t have to perform anything for anyone. I wish I had known back then that I was not alone!

  13. Angie says...

    Kim, thank you so much for your generousity in sharing this.

  14. Reanna says...

    YES to ALL OF THIS! Thank you!

  15. DJ says...

    Hi Kim — thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I especially liked the part you wrote about clinging to Ashley’s essay — it’s a reminder of how important represented thru writing or media or pop culture is. Your essay “My First Date Was At Age 30” has been that for me. I felt so seen in a way I didn’t realize I needed and it has been a personal touchpoint for me all year as I embrace that I’m a late bloomer (27!) but that that notion doesn’t need to keep me under a label — we are the stories we tell ourselves and can all bloom whenever feels right (and perhaps that’s never for some people!). We’re constantly become exactly who we’re supposed to be. Sending love and light always!

  16. Meg says...

    Your willingness to lay bare the processes of healing is remarkable and I always enjoy reading your posts! Congrats on the promotion :) Can we have a socially distant meet up of cup of jo readers in the Brooklyn area? You guys just sound like great people to meet!

  17. Kajsa says...

    I am Indigenous Sami, and I feel this so much! Jeffrey Sissons calls it “oppressive authenticy”, when you dont meet the demands of authentic behaviour which is expected of you, based on colour/ethnicity. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Lesley says...

    I really like your point of view Kim! Thanks for this post. Cheers to the Walt Whitman reference – I also gained quite a bit of self discovery through his work.

  19. cate says...

    I really want to know your favorite part of the lion king – please tell!

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      oh definitely when Simba is talking to Mufasa in the clouds. Loved the drama of that moment haha xoxo

    • Caitlin says...

      Same! Thanks for asking Cate.

      And amazing Kim that your favorite part is when Mufasa is saying “remember who you are!”

  20. Alana says...

    Deeply appreciate this post. As a white person it is important to hear voices like Kim’s and make sure others hear these powerful points of view and to prop them up. Thank you Kim, and thank you Cup Of Jo.

  21. Liz says...

    As a white woman who has made some of the mistakes you wrote about, thank you so much for sharing this deeply vulnerable piece. I’m sure many of us will keep making mistakes and dropping the ball. This piece is another reminder of why we must keep fighting when it’s uncomfortable or feels easier to stop

  22. Chrissy says...

    These topics on race are perhaps not the posts that attract the most comments, and I want Kim and COJ to know these are appreciated and welcome. I hope that as society (at least in the West) moves beyond gender/sexual/etc. constrictions, we also do the same with race. I hope we come to define and view POC as whole and complex people. I hope you continue to write about whatever you want!

    • Jess says...

      I second this!

    • Caroline Pierce says...

      Ditto!

    • K says...

      Agreed!

    • J says...

      Ditto!

    • florence says...

      Yes!

    • Lauren says...

      Ditto!!

  23. KaraMichelle says...

    Thank you, Kim. I look forward to all of your posts, and particularly the ones where you have clearly poured so much of yourself into the words. As a white woman in mostly white spaces, I gain so much from hearing about your lived experience and really appreciate your willingness to share. Big hugs to you!

  24. Lauren E. says...

    What a fantastic piece. I love it.

  25. M says...

    Kim, this essay felt so intimate. I love being able to read your voice.

  26. Sharon in Scotland says...

    I’ve always felt like I’m on the outside looking in. I’m the “eccentric” one in the family, the ‘weird’ and “strange” one. I’ve never wanted to get married and have children, another way of being apart from everyone. I knew from the time I was a teenager that I wanted to be a speech and language therapist, (a white, middle class profession, both of which I’m not) and that I wanted to live and work in the most remote places in Scotland, (places not known for their diversity). All those things have never mattered. It has never occurred to me that I “shouldn’t/couldn’t” be an SLT or work in the Highlands because I wouldn’t see anybody like me. I can lack courage at times and am very hermity by nature. I can find it hard to walk into a room but I have never, ever found it difficult to pursue what I’ve wanted to do and where I’ve wanted to do it.
    I was brought up in a predominantly white area and school. All my friends were white and my crushes were on white boys. I don’t know if my mindset would have been different if I’d lived in London, maybe? maybe I would have felt the need to stay in more diverse surroundings,
    I’m myself, I love the cold, autumn and winter are my favourite seasons, wrapping up warm is delightful, I love old stone houses and fireplaces, I love bleak, huge, remote landscapes and bagpipes make me cry. All those things are not what a woman of colour is supposed to like…….are they? I don’t know, I just know that THIS woman of colour does.
    (Go and look at “SLT’s of colour” on instagram, lots of different stories, including my own)

    • Michelle says...

      As a black woman and mother I can relate to the ‘bagpipe’ thing. When my oldest son graduated in 2008 his graduating class was led in by a man dressed in a kilt playing a bagpipe it was awesome! At my funeral I want a bagpiper to play amazing grace. I love how it sounds on bagpipes!

    • Alyssa says...

      I hereby volunteer to play bagpipes at events for either of you 🤗

    • Michelle says...

      Alyssa I won’t be able to find you when I’m dead but the thought is much appreciated! 👍

    • Molly K says...

      After seeing Michelle’s reply, I’m off to go listen to The Dropkick Murphys do Amazing Grace on bagpipes. It’s been a while.
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ip-COzs42LQ

    • K says...

      well you sound like an awesome person!

    • Cait says...

      Really love all these thoughts! Bagpipes should be for everyone. Love, a white American bagpiper (at least in a former life, pre-kids and apartments)

  27. Jessica says...

    Thank you for sharing you story, Kim. I definitely have not had the same struggles as you, but I also find comfort in reading other people’s words and feeling less alone through them.

  28. Kate Toussaint says...

    Thank you, Kim! Your voice is so powerful.

  29. nadine says...

    Loved this post so much.
    I’m a mixed race (white and south asian), and I grew up in an almost completely white environment and I relate to so many things. Thank you so much for sharing Kim, and thank you other readers for chipping in, it makes me feel less lonely.
    In the past months I realized I’ve been having more difficulties to be open about my background and I’ve been thinking a lot of the reasons behind it and how to feel more free to be myself. I recently read Beverly Daniel Tatum’s work, she is a psychologist and she talks about race and identity. I find it incredibly interesting and helpful and I would recommend it to anyone.

    • SB says...

      I’m white and South Asian too and have been exploring my racial identity a lot recently — posts like this one are great, but I’ll also have to check out this book too. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Caitlin says...

    LOVE a Cup of Kim post! This is so honest and vulnerable, thank you for sharing it with us.

  31. Sarah says...

    What a gorgeous piece! Thank you for sharing. Also, I want to know, what was/is your favorite part of The Lion King?

  32. liz says...

    love this. thanks for sharing, Kim!

  33. Amanda H says...

    Love your writing, Kim! Thank you for your vulnerability. 🌈

  34. Caitlin says...

    So beautifully written. Thank you for sharing, Kim.

  35. Nicki says...

    Thank you Kim, this is beautifully written and sparks so many thoughts (and hopefully conversations, both in the comments and beyond).

    I think the way you’ve framed identity resonates with many readers. I’m white, but was born into two cultures/nationalities, married a person from a third, and live/work in a fourth (with the countries involved spanning three continents). Throughout my adult life – especially at work – I’ve often found myself in groups where I’m the only person of my gender, skin color, nationality, culture or religious belief. On occasion it can lead to feelings of isolation of exclusion, but as I’ve grown more comfortable in the space, more often than not I just find myself appreciating the diversity. I learn so much – about myself, about others, and from others.

  36. Lucy says...

    Kim, I can so relate to this. Growing up ethnic Chinese in a multicultural South-East Asian country, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been Othered and called a “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) by my own people just because I can’t read, write or really speak “Chinese” which to most ppl means Mandarin. (I can speak Cantonese, which is a dialect, but that doesn’t seem to count for some reason.) My mum tried to teach me Mandarin of course but being as she wasn’t all that fluent herself since she had to drop out of school at the elementary level when WWII broke out, she wasn’t in a position to go all Tiger Mum on me. (Also Mandarin is HARD and I hated the rote drilling involved and saw no point in learning it since it didn’t count towards an actual grade in my school.) The true reason was that my heart belonged to story books like the quintessentially British Enid Blyton books — as a kid I would devour every book I could get my hands on — so for all intents and purposes my first language was really English, which created a language barrier when dealing with my very Chinese parents and other relatives, who would ALWAYS comment on how “mute” I was at family gatherings — mainly becoz I had no idea what to say to them and even if i did, I could never come up with enough Cantonese to carry on an actual conversation with them. And they of course barely spoke any English.

    My friends however (whether Chinese or non-Chinese) were lovely fellow bookworms who ALL loved the English language like me, so there were no communication/identity issues. The other races in the cultural melting pot here didn’t give me grief for being “more” or “less” Chinese, simply becoz they didn’t really have set preconceived notions on how a Chinese person should look/think/behave/speak. When I had to move for my A-Levels and the environment changed, suddenly I was surrounded by a more conservative lot who sneered at me for not being able to speak the “mother tongue” as it were. But then these were also the same hypocrites who would come begging me for help with their English papers!! So who’s the one having the last laugh then, eh?

    The other thing that bugged me is that once I went abroad to further my studies and encountered a lot of white people for the first time, boy did I get a hefty dose of the typical microaggresions: “Your English is so good!!” and “How come you speak English so well?!”, always with a look of stunned surprise, like they just couldn’t believe what they were seeing/hearing. In my head I’d always think “it’s because your ancestors invaded the sh!t out of my country nearly a hundred years ago and FORCED us natives to learn to read/write/speak English while they were busy plundering our natural resources, and you’d know that if you even bothered to learn even a smidgen of your problematic White Man’s Burden colonialist history that’s rife with systemic and institutionalised racism”, but of course in real life I’d have to just shrug and say “I loved reading, I guess”, in the interest of not provoking a fight. I mean, I could reconcile it if were just the odd Caucasian or 2 with this reaction, but inevitably nearly all of the ones whom I’ve ever spoken to in my years abroad would eventually say the EXACT. SAME. THING. to me. It got really old, really fast.

    It took a long time but I eventually developed a bulletproof sense of identity when I arrived at the same realisation as another person here — namely that my cultural identity is defined by ME, and me alone. In my case, I can and will decide how “Chinese” or “Asian” i am or want to be, and that is something that will forevermore be determined by me, not my family, not other Chinese people, not society at large, and certainly not by non-Chinese people. And even though I’m not Black or American, I can empathise with Kim’s journey and am equally glad that she has arrived at some measure of hard-won peace.

    • shanze says...

      Im from a different (south) asian background and grew up on the east coat (of the USA) but navigating different identities is something that is so common for so many of us. I recognize so much of myself in your comment and in kim’s story. I guess in woke speech- I see you.

      I also loved loved enid blyton, i begged my parents (who actually attended boarding schools b/c colonization) to let me go to boarding school but was told a)Absolutey not, b) its not like the books. Seeing a reference to her books made me HAVE to comment.

    • jane says...

      I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to get this from your own family but wow – it sounds like you’ve managed to get above it. Amazing!

      I really try to have compassion for the whole race/diverse cultural exchange that we are in the middle of because most of the time I know people who ask are simply curious and want to be educated. People are by nature pretty ignorant – it’s just natural because we can only focus on so many things. That’s why things like compassion and understanding are a practice and not the rule.

      I don’t mind educating them in kind because I feel like it is a major contribution towards world peace on my part. I feel like it is literally the least I can do to contribute to the healing of the wound. If you do it well you end up feeling better about it and can sometimes even make a friend.

  37. Tina Crisas says...

    I’m not black (greek with an olive complexion which got tanned so easily in the sun growing up, i’m much more fair now as i avoid sun exposure for vanity reasons) but I was raised in Australia in the 80’s amidst a fair dinkum Aussie role model of the blue eyed, blonde haired aussie girl next door. I felt that was perfection. I distinctly recall being at my cousin’s house one weekend where I was scrubbing my skin with soap and a loofah in the bathroom trying to “scrape the darkness away”. (I was probably seven or eight years old) When my cousin found me (she was older) I still recall her words which were something to the extent of: “people go to solariums to get so tanned, roast on the beach for hours to achieve that colour! “. For some reason, those words put me at ease so much and I eventually loosened up.

    • Rusty says...

      I’m sorry you went through that.
      We (Aussies) might live in the most multicultural nation on the planet, BUT we still have such a lonnnnnnng way to go in order to walk our ralk.
      Hugz from Perth. xx

    • Tina Crisas says...

      Aw, thank you so much Rusty! Have a great day!

  38. Leah says...

    Powerful and inspiring! Thank you for your beautiful work and voice, Kim!! 💛💛💛

  39. Elle says...

    KIM!!! This hits me deep. I too have had the same experiences growing up black in white spaces. I remember being excited to go to college to finally meet other black students, only to be disappointed with “Why do you talk so white”? “What is that weird music your listening to”? Questions that never go away but the pain of hearing them has. I’m me, unapologetically. And I’m so proud to be raising a teen daughter who proudly wears a big afro and plays guitar in a punk rock band. We proudly wear our Van Halen, Pink Floyd, and RHCP t-shirts when we’re out and about.
    Thank you for sharing this and thank you Joanna for posting this.

    • Jane I. says...

      Elle, your comment made me tear up! Rock on, mama, for teaching your teenage daughter to be proud and to love her beautiful self!!

  40. Jessi Cowan says...

    Kim, thank you for speaking your truth. I can relate so much to what you wrote.

  41. AMK says...

    “ My Blackness doesn’t have to look like that of my Black colleagues, my mother’s, my father’s or my relatives who looked like me but didn’t sound like me. It is much less about learning how I should be and more about affirming the person I am, explaining her favorite part of The Lion King, uninterrupted.” Oooooh this moved me to tears. So profound. So beautiful. I am first generation Mexican American and growing up, I was teased by my extended family for my gavacha Spanish and in school, I was called a “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) because I didn’t dress like a chola. Ahh it is so beautiful to come home to yourself. That’s where the magic lives 💕 Thank you, Kim, for sharing yourself with us here. It is an honor to read your work.

    • I love your comment almost as much as I loved her post. Absolutely beautifully profound, both.

    • Julie says...

      “it’s so beautiful to come home to yourself, that’s where the magic lives.” I have chills, thank you for sharing.

  42. Sara says...

    I thank you for sharing with all my heart.

    • Beth Allen says...

      This was so well written – I loved reading it.
      I’m also intrigued – what’s your favourite part of the Lion King?! Beth xx

  43. JK says...

    Blacks make up +/-14% of the American population. Hispanics make up about the same percentage. Why doesn’t CoJ have just as many posts regarding Hispanics as they do for blacks? Someone please explain that to me.

    • Rachel says...

      One of the things I’ve really appreciated about this post is how Kim’s experience and vulnerability have allowed a variety of other people to share their experiences in the comments as well. Many people, including non-Black POC, have related to her experiences, building bridges and community.

      So many of the staff’s writers share personal stories and reflections. If hearing more Hispanic voices on this blog is important to you, I don’t understand why you needed to leave this comment on Kim’s post, rather than Joanna’s or Caroline’s, for example. Sorry if I’ve misinterpreted your comment, but it doesn’t actually sound like you want articles from Latinx or Hispanic writers, it sounds like you just resent articles by Black writers. If I have read your comment wrong, then maybe you should send the team recommendations of your favourite Hispanic or Latinx writers to help encourage more of what you’d like to see covered?

      I love the range of posts covering different cultures, but you can’t ignore the fact that we’re in the midst of a massively important civil rights movement which has highlighted how Black voices have been silenced and ignored for centuries. I really value how CoJ has been making more space for Black women’s writing–I think it has really enriched this space.

    • Charlie says...

      Hi JK, I think CupofJo is intentionally trying to become a more inclusive place for everyone, and show a wide range of diversity, which is clear beyond this post. That said, being Black in America comes with a violent, painful history imposed by white Americans for centuries – from chattle slavery and beyond. It’s its own unique, painful problem and we have a unique responsibility to solve it. Asking “why don’t you write a post about me” is kind of like telling a Jewish person sharing their family’s experience of the Holocaust that it’s your turn to talk. Everyone has painful and beautiful, unique life experiences based on who they are. But Black Americans face a history and barriers that are truly exceptional. I recommend you educate yourself on why.

      Thank you CupofJo for featuring Black voices, and helping to educate about the Black experience.

    • JP says...

      JK, that’s a fair and good question! I’ve read CoJ for the past decade, and am so, so refreshed whenever there’s a post from a non-white writer. I don’t sense any resentment from your question.

      I wonder if some reasons why they haven’t had Latinx, Chicanx authors is: they haven’t actively looked to hire someone? they just really haven’t considered it?

      I do appreciate the time this year they’ve taken to speak out against white supremacy, and to share the honest truths of Black women, femmes. And your comment brings up a thought for me: Black, Brown, and Indigenous people have had the most stolen from them, have received (and still do!) the most violence from the state at every level. It’s a fair question to encourage their sharing from Latinx writers.

      Sincerely,
      a Viet American (born in the US, to parents who came here as refugees).

    • MJ says...

      Black people is the term you are looking for.

    • Debbie D says...

      I am Hispanic (though I prefer Latina or Latinx) and I found Kim’s post not only interesting but relatable. I agree that the Hispanic/Latinx POV is non-existent on this site, and I wish there were more, but to ask for “an explanation” on one of the few posts by a Black writer, a fellow minority no less, is just rude.

      Maybe you could start that egalitarian blog? I might read it, unless you insist on referring to Black people as “blacks” because, WTF.

  44. Eliza says...

    Thank you for sharing your experience and journey! I’ve been evaluating what things I expect or take for granted with all kinds of social constructs I experience/witness in my own life. My experience doesn’t compare to yours, but you sharing your story enriches my understanding and the intersections we do have.

  45. jeannie says...

    Thank you for sharing your struggle to finally accept who you are and break down those boundaries. You are an inspiration to us all!

  46. Elle says...

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I always appreciate the honesty and vulnerability of your writing.

  47. Elizabeth says...

    You are an incredible writer, Kim. Powerful. Your experience resonates with so many–though its validity and beauty would be in no way diminished even if it didn’t.

  48. Jessie says...

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kim. Thank you for being thoughtful and intentional so that we could all benefit from your thoughts and words as well. Although we do not share the exact experiences, your words resonated with me deeply. Trying to grow into the person other people expect you to be, or not to be, is confusing and isolating. I’m so sorry that you felt misplaced. Thank you for reminding me that there is no wrong way to be myself.

  49. TennesseeCassie says...

    So beautifully written! ❤❤🙏🙏

  50. This is what we need to see. These conversations, happening here, in predominantly white spaces, with a predominantly white audience. Brave and heartbreaking and full of hope and strength at the same time. I love to see these discussions about race happening in the mainstream. This is where racism happens, so why should the discussions only happen in “social justice” spaces? Bravo, Kim. I applaud you and the COJ team for making it happen.

    • AMK says...

      @Bindi 💯🙌🏽👏🏽

  51. courtney says...

    This is so wonderful, for you personally, as well as for everyone reading and experiencing similar things, as a reminder that we’re all individuals! Gosh, especially now, in the US, we need this reminder that all people are just people. People with their own interests, talents, styles, worries, humor, etc. We don’t have to fit stereotypes just because it’s what’s expected.

    Anecdotally, this reminds me of when I was living with a Costa Rican roommate in France. I’m not sure she’d met many other Americans. One day she told me, “You don’t act very American.” I was probably as regular as any and as different as any other American. I liked things like cooking, reading, smoking weed, music, and crafting. Just a person. I asked her what most Americans were like. She thought for a second, then pretended she was lifting her shirt to ‘flash’ the room, and yelled ‘whooooo!’. Hahaha. She was right that I wasn’t really like that, at least…

  52. Christina says...

    i loved this piece. it is so tough growing up and feeling like you are somehow “too white” for your own black culture, but will obviously never be white and can’t fit in fully there either. i love getting to visit this site and see the stories that remind me of experiences of my own and the experiences of others (particularly motherhood around the world, my goodness i love that series). anyway, kudos for such beautiful writing and for so poignantly expressing your story and echoing the stories of so many.

  53. Ellen says...

    I really enjoyed this piece, Kim. Bravo! And in general, I have been enjoying your public invitations to see the world through your eyes, and to pick apart racial constructs that so many people are afraid to ask about or wonder out loud about, for whatever reason. I think the strength of this piece and others like it is your honesty. Relating your personal story to the arc of a cultural movement is powerful, and I applaud you. Xoxo

  54. Sonya Gropman says...

    Thank you for sharing, Kim! <3

  55. shannon says...

    Kim, I am lucky I took a moment to myself today because I got to read this. Reading your essay was my selfcare and you should know I am very grateful for your writing.

  56. AR says...

    Thank you Kim. The ways in which you articulate your experience and stand up for yourself are beautiful and inspiring. Loving your posts, can’t wait to read more.

  57. Kara says...

    Loved this!

  58. cz says...

    Thanks so much for writing this, Kim! As a nerdy Latina immigrant who moved to the U.S. at the age of 5 and grew up in an affluent, predominantly White neighborhood, I feel this to my core!!! I grew up feeling like I never belonged anywhere and like every action was scrutinized … it’s no wonder I struggle with issues of anxiety. I’m just now learning to embrace all aspects of my personality, identity, and personhood. But it’s definitely a journey. After years of being a chameleon … adapting and shape shifting to meet the societal expectations of others … I’ve mustered the courage to just be myself.

    I especially loved this quote from your article, and I know I will turn back to it again and again: “My Blackness doesn’t have to look like that of my Black colleagues, my mother’s, my father’s or my relatives who looked like me but didn’t sound like me.”

  59. Allie says...

    Love this article, and especially Kim’s voice and amazing writing. And thanks Joanna for your response to R above providing accountability for this blog/company. Always on the forefront!

  60. Kari says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and I admire your grace, honesty, and confidence so much!!

  61. Jane I. says...

    I extend a virtual hug to you Kim. Your story, as I am sure you now know, is shared by many Black folks, such as myself. I can imagine that you, like me, didn’t start to find others with similar experiences of being an ostracized Black person until college. I remember watching Issa Rae’s web series the Mis-adventures of Awkward Black Girl with my friends and felt SO validated when she said she could not double Dutch. I now know that Blackness is a beautiful spectrum and actually, always has been. Look at Jimi Hendrix or Bad Brains or Grace Jones or Erykah Badu who were trailblazers at refining Blackness through music and fashion. It feels like in recent years with the natural hair movement, AfroPunk and, heck even, Solange, the spectrum is being more celebrated in the mainstream and the colorism/shadeism is slowly fading away. It’s okay to like what you like, even if you don’t know the lyrics to Gin and Juice but can belt out Stairway to Heaven at a karaoke bar. It doesn’t make you less “Black” and that’s pretty amazing.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Jane!!!! This is so beautifully expressed! Thank you so much for sharing it with me! Much love to you. xoxo

    • Alyce says...

      Yes! I remember in college having a huge epiphany that I was the one who defined blackness, not the other way around. By virtue of being black, anything that I liked, anything that I did, and preferences that I had were all blackness. White people couldn’t tell me I was doing it wrong because what did they know?? And black people couldn’t tell me I was doing it wrong because they didn’t know everything. I didn’t find black people like me in college, but I’ve found more and more of them as I aged. It’s nice to be seen by others like me, but it’s also really good to know that I don’t need the validation from others because I’m the one creating the definition.

    • Fiona says...

      Hi Jane and Alyce, both your comments are just wonderful and powerful, thank you. and @Kim you are a gem and your writing is a joy!

  62. Sithara says...

    It is so frustrating when people try to limit you with “shoulds” based on your appearance. Growing up Indian-American, I always felt like I had to defend never watching Bollywood movies (I just don’t like really long movies!) Sometimes I marvel at how much representation matters (like Mindy Kaling having her own children, or Aziz Ansari’s shows) to “allow” us to live life the way we want to.

  63. Jessica Charles says...

    Love! I connected on this so much. I grew up in mostly black spaces, but for a long time was the only first generation person. So I was othered everywhere. It is so difficult! Thank you for writing this Kim and also making me remember Switchfoot has bops!

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Switchfoot were my BOYS in high school!! Thank you, Jess! xoxo

  64. Jessica Charles says...

    Love! I connected on this so much. I grew up in mostly black spaces, but for a long time was the only first generation person. So I was othered everywhere. It is so difficult! Thank you for writing this Kim and also making me remember Switchfoot has bops!

  65. Laney says...

    Loved this piece. Kim, your writing is always such a treat – thank you for sharing your story.

  66. riye says...

    Good for you Kim! You’re an inspiration. A lot of Asians do the same thing–if you’re not Asian enough you’re a “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). It takes a lot of time and courage to wade through all the expectations, stereotypes, and plain BS to get to where you want to be as a person.

  67. Joyce says...

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kim. Xoxo.

  68. Rachel says...

    I still remember the first time in my early childhood when someone called me an “oreo” and the hot shame I felt when the term was explained to me. Hearing your experience of letting go of others’ expectations and embracing your multitudes is such a balm. Thanks Kim–I love all of your writing, but this one landed even more than usual for me.

  69. Michelle says...

    It always amazes me how people can define your blackness by the way you talk and what you listen too. I’m a middle aged black woman. I went on a date with a black guy five years ago. He asked me what music I listened to,
    and I told him U2 and Coldplay. He replied, I never heard of them. Needless to say I never saw him again.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Fellow huge Coldplay fan here, Michelle!! xoxo

    • Michelle says...

      YAY! We have good taste Kim!

  70. Calla says...

    Thanks for sharing Kim! What a lovely essay!

    It can be so hard sometimes to see the prevalent forces around you because they’re like the air you breathe. If you don’t know anything else it’s easy to always feel in the wrong.

    I’ve noticed this a lot as well, looking back on things people have said to me that imply that my interest in something (a type of music, a sport, an economic theory) is shallow or that I am a poser. In hindsight it’s so easy to see how these things comments were directed at me because I am a woman. But at the time I really internalized it and for years and years felt insecure about many of my interests, abilities and personality traits.

    That sounds really hard to have to experience in relation to race, even more so coming from your family. I’m glad you have found other voices with more affirming messages but I’m sorry you still had to struggle with it for so long.

    • Geri Lopez says...

      I can relate to what you said about internalizing what people have said in reference to your music taste or other interests. It does suck. Thank you so sharing.

  71. Geri Lopez says...

    Thank you for sharing your story regarding your experiences of trying to express yourself as a black woman. I hope to see more post from Black POC and non-Black POC perspectives.

    As a non-Black POC, I can relate to that feeling of “otherness” where it is difficult to feel “enough” while being near one particular group or environment that’s predominantly white or in white spaces.

    I even struggle with having enough courage to share my own perspective or experiences in fear of facing backlash or or being gaslighted by others. Sharing a post like this takes a huge amount of courage, and I appreciate you.

    • Calla says...

      Ugh I’m so sorry Geri, that really sucks. Especially when your attempts at being open and sharing are undermined or met with negativity, it can be so hard to try again.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Thank you so much, Geri! xoxo

  72. Lizzie says...

    Thank you for sharing your voice with us, Kim. I love everything you write and the perspective you bring to this space.

  73. SP says...

    I love Kim’s writing so, so, so much. It is brave and bold and empathetic all at once. Kim, I think you are many people’s flare in the dark!

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      This immediately brought tears to my eyes! Thank you, SP! xoxo

    • Sharon says...

      This also brought tears to my eyes. And I completely agree.

  74. Heather says...

    Kim,
    I long to know, what is indeed your favorite part of The Lion King?
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Favi says...

      Yes! I wanted to know also!

      Kim, your writing is lovely.

    • MJ says...

      Yes I want to know too– what’s your favorite part of Lion King??? Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful light Kim!!! I am so grateful for your contributions.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      definitely when Simba is talking to Mufasa in the clouds. Loved the drama of that moment haha xoxo

  75. R says...

    This is beautiful. Thank you, Kim.

    CoJ, can we please get an update on whether Kim’s title (and compensation) have been adjusted to account for her leadership in doing both the standard work of the editing/writing job + the HUGE, EXHAUSTING, usually unpaid, job of racial educator to a largely White audience and, at the very least, an overwhelmingly White staff?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes, Kim, who is an incredible writer and editor, has been promoted to associate editor and gotten a well-deserved raise. We are so lucky and happy to have her on our team.

      We also are so happy to have Christine Pride writing our new Race Matters column: https://cupofjo.com/author/christinepride/

      And Erica Chidi writing our wellness column: https://cupofjo.com/author/erica/

      Thank you so much!

    • May P says...

      I’m so happy for Kim’s advancement in her work environment, well deserved! But the way R’s comment was worded sounded very hostile and unnecessarily confronting.

    • Shay says...

      Kim is very talented and I am sure she would have been promoted without the requests/inquiries about her salary by CoJ readers. If she were White, you would have simply commented about her exceptional talent and the impact her posts have. As a 45-year-old professional Black woman (HBCU grad) in America I find that (although well-meaning) these comments/demands from White readers are quite racist. They echo some of what Kim wrote about White people giving their opinion about what she liked or what she did simply because of the color of her skin. That is not equality. It is tokenism driven by White Guilt and it is not good for Black people and definitely not positive for children of any color or background.