“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” I find myself typing for the tenth time this week, to another friend, “ally,” or colleague who finds my opinion unsatisfactory. If it’s not through Facebook, messenger or an email, it’s face-to-face between classes or meetings. Yet, the result is always the same. I’m accused of being racist toward white people. I’m accused of being sexist towards men. When I point out the ways in which society has failed women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, I’m told to stop being so whiny. My intelligence is undermined because I am a black woman. My legality is questioned because I uphold my Mexican heritage. The assumption is that I’m illegal or that I will be deported. The assumption is that I don’t belong.

I’ve gained a reputation for speaking my mind and “starting stuff,” yet I abstain from participating in the discriminatory or insensitive viewpoints that provoke my response in the first place. I speak up because I know that my silence is submission. I vote because I know that my ancestors before me were denied this right. I protest because it is necessary. I completed my degrees(s) because I know that education is access to change. I mentor the youth — and will soon teach — because I believe in the power of knowledge. Yet, in the eyes of many, that is not enough.

Typically, I just let things go, but these current times make it hard to do so. It seems as though the internet relieves individuals of accountability, making people like me more vulnerable to hateful threats and insults. If it’s not on the World Wide Web, it’s at the department store or local restaurant. It might even be at a small gathering or party. Individuals attempt to shut me up with such force and immediacy as if my voice disrupts their livelihood. As if I prevent them from living. Why is my presence so threatening? Why is my perspective met with hatred? When my opinion is dismissed and I am undercut, it makes me feel devalued. The constitution is constantly used to protect the rights of the hateful, but what about the rights of those like me? Those that are underrepresented, marginalized and oppressed? Don’t we matter too?

I can’t help but think, have I really become that person? You know the type: Outspoken, strong-willed, motivated and determined. Traits that would otherwise be praised in men, who are deemed leaders for taking initiative and speaking up. Yet when I am vocal or take a stance, I’m stopped in my tracks. Because I’m not a man, my leadership is seen as overstepping bounds. I’m quickly attacked instead. I’m filed under the category: Angry Black Woman. I’m labeled, stereotyped, and ultimately dehumanized.

When #BlackGirlsRock, it’s assumed that others don’t. Yet, this platform is used to recognize women and girls that are often overlooked. When #BeingABlackGirlIsLit, it’s a result of time and healing. Because though we have made progress, lack of visibility and acknowledgment tells us otherwise. Though we value ourselves, #BlackLivesMatter demands that others do as well.

My passion is mistaken for anger. My determination is mistaken for stubbornness. To many, I don’t know what I’m talking about. In their eyes, I’m just another black woman with an opinion. Others feel it necessary to correct me. In the heat of discussion, my viewpoint is mansplained by another individual who lacks the true experience of what it means to be a woman or person of color in today’s world. I’m told to stop being so political when women’s bodies and black lives are constantly legislated by the government.

How can I not be political?

My life and the lives of others are not just topics for debate or water cooler conversation. No black women are not subjects or objects. We are not bystanders. We are not the punchline of a joke. We are not a trend. We are not for sale. We are at the forefront of the battle for justice, equality and representation every day of our lives. We have been silenced, muted, and distorted by the white gaze for centuries. We can’t just sit back and take it. No, we must combat it. We must challenge the misconceptions. We must use the resources we have to create lasting change for our generation and the next.

Black women don’t just stand up for black women, we stand up for everybody. We ignite the trends of fashion, hair and beauty, yet are often robbed of recognition. We inspire change through activism and movements such as #YouOKSis and #BlackTransLivesMatter yet are constantly misunderstood or criminalized. We educate the youth through communal acts and organizations by encouraging free expression and participation, yet are still fighting for our rights to be heard. We promote literacy through #1000BlackGirlBooks and academic excellence, yet find the myth of underachievement to disrupt our progress. That doesn’t stop us from utilizing technology and contributing to the world’s leading innovations, though. We are among the most talented artists. We are among the most influential of people.

Despite our contributions, we’re still reduced. We’re still broken down, time and time again. We are belittled and undermined, in what becomes a cycle of discrimination and, in the most extreme of circumstances, violence and eradication. Yet, I will not dim out my light. In spite of the clouds, I shine. I see hope for a brighter tomorrow. I am confident that all my hard work will be worth it in the end. I am confident that our collective efforts will prevail.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” will no longer be uttered by lips or typed at my keyboard. I’m not sorry that my opinion makes some people uncomfortable. I’m not sorry at all. I stand up for those who continue to be denied their fundamental rights as humans. I stand up for those who are vulnerable to violence because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation.

Though many will still be offended and lack the ability to relate or understand, I will lead with compassion. I will finish what I start. I will speak up. I will continue to stand up for you.

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