By Aviva Davis
Typically, Black History Month focuses on the past and how far we’ve come as a community: learning about monumental Black historical figures, Carter G. Woodson and the creation of Black History Week. Remembering the pain that our ancestors have suffered so we can stand here today. Of course, this should be an aspect of our celebration of Black History Month, but what about the present and the future?
As our understanding of Blackness in ourselves and in our communities grows and transforms, how does that change our relationships with ourselves and with society? For those of us from multiple marginalized backgrounds, how do our identities intersect, and how do we want to be perceived by others and by ourselves? In the never ending-battle against white supremacy and Christian hegemony, where does a young, Black, queer Jew fit in?
This Black History Month I am reflecting on my own past, present, and future, and on how my sense of myself has changed.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, attending a predominantly white school, carrying the fear that my voice and my presence were unwanted. It took years for me to learn that I deserve to take up space, and that my perspective as a Black, queer, Jew is a powerful tool, especially in a society where most people assume that everyone is straight, all Jews are white, and all Black folks are Christian. I am tired of feeling like I have to choose between my Judaism and my Blackness, or my Judaism and my queerness. I am all of my identities at the same time. I wear my shema necklace over my shirt, not only because I am a proud Jew, but because I need people to see my Judaism at the same time as my Blackness, not one after the other.
As a young person of color who still finds myself in predominantly white environments, my right to take up space continues to be challenged. More often than not, I am the only one who can stand up for myself. While standing up for myself can result in my white peers feeling threatened or insulted, I intend to keep and strengthen my voice for the rest of my life.
Cultivating the ability to advocate for myself has walked hand in hand with personal reflection. Many folks who identify with one or multiple minority communities feel we are expected to educate others. From a young age, our lived experiences are viewed as accessible to the public, our trauma used as tools for their learning. Friends, colleagues, family members, and strangers will assume that since we carry a marginalized identity with which they are unfamiliar, we are at their beck and call to answer any questions they may have, or, even worse, to affirm their ignorant opinions or to forgive them for harm they may have caused others. To this I say no more. I choose how I share my story and with whom.
Let’s not forget compensation. I certainly need to hear this sometimes, so, dear readers, this is for you: you do not have to work for free. Ask for the compensation you think you deserve, and I can guarantee you there is someone out there who can match or surpass your request. I always thought that since I am a one-of-a-kind individual, it was my duty to speak, to mentor, to share myself with anyone who asked. False. We set our own boundaries. We choose our own worth.
I am exploring how to separate my self-worth from how others perceive me and to focus on how I see myself. My relationship with my body has been significant aspects of this journey. In a society built in the image of a white, heteronormative ideal, I am still learning how to appreciate my Black, queer, femme, Jewish body. Embracing it, nurturing it, adorning it, and showing it off, despite the norm I have been presented with, provide me with a sense of strength and security I never knew was possible.
Over the past few years, I have grown into the roles of educator, speaker, and writer, making myself known as a trustworthy resource to both friends and strangers. My present self is stronger, brighter, louder than my past, and I am so much better for it. I hope my future brings more learning, more pride, more self-determination, more opportunities to teach and to create, but also more comfort and less exhaustion. Black bodies need rest. I’ve learned from Tricia Hersey and the icons at the Nap Ministry that rest can be a form of resistance. So, let’s resist, in the name of self-love and self-healing.
I am about to enter a new phase of my life. I am ready to bring all of who I have become to a new project: becoming a therapist that other Black, queer Jews can trust and share themselves with. This summer I begin my Master’s in Social Work at Smith College School of Social Work. Along the way I hope to keep growing stronger, brighter, louder, and prouder, more able to resist and to rest, for myself, for my ancestors, and for future beautiful, Black Jews.
Aviva Davis (she/they) graduated from Brandeis University in 2021. There, she studied Psychology, Hispanic Studies, and Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation (CAST). They work closely with Jewish nonprofit Be’Chol Lashon, contributing to dialogue about the history and experiences of Jewish communities of color around the world. You can find them on Titktok at @adavis99. Aviva was a 2020-2021 Alma College Writing Fellow.