Demarion Johnson

African American

 

Demarion: I'm African American, and I identify as African American or Black.

 

I think I've always known that I was Black. But the moment it went BOOM was in fourth or fifth grade. A group of us was playing flag football on the playground. I tackled a guy, and when he got up, he said "******* N- word."

 

That was the moment I went,  "Oh." It was a weird feeling of being pulled out of reality. I was just...there.

 

I grew up Black. Black family. Always around Black people. Black culture formed my talents and skills, it formed my identity. It's what I enjoy. It's who I am. I don't even know if my ethnicity was ever at the forefront of how I saw myself. It was just who I was.

 

But sometimes being Black is being told how you should act. There has always been a contradiction between what I want to do and the stereotypes that tell me I'm supposed to act a certain way because I'm Black. And those stereotypes threaten to affect my thought patterns. 

 

We all have our own quirks and our own characteristics. There’s no one set definition of Blackness. I think college is really when I stepped into my definition of Blackness, and not what the world's or society's definition of it is.

 

Etta: What does being Black mean to you?

 

Demarion: Being Black to me gives me a sense of pride. I look at my heritage, the hardships of slavery, the civil rights movement, and I'm like, those are some powerful people.The spirit and courage that they had to have endured all of that is what I'm supposed to embody. So when I hear the term Black excellence or hear about being Black in general, it's something to celebrate and be proud of. 

 

But I also realize the reality of it is that it's a fight. Being Black isn't something I can turn off. I am always Black. So how do you educate people while politely saying, "This is me"?  

 

It's like, take me or leave me. I'm Black. There's a strong group of people before me that were Black. And I have that potential. We all have that potential. To think that I could live up to the standards of people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., even on a "smaller scale"... Our grandparents and our cousins all went through so much, and our trials and struggles are nowhere in comparison to what they endured. It tells me, "I can do this."

 

Etta: Have you felt discriminated against on or off of this campus?

 

Demarion: I don't know if it was intentional. My freshman year, I was speaking at an event. Someone walked up to me and said, "Wow, you're very articulate." The way they said it, too...  I was just like, "Thank you...?" I just kept thinking, "What?" 

 

I was just like, this is a whole new ballgame. People going, "Wow, I didn't expect that of you." I'm like, "What did you expect of me?" 

 

Etta: What about off campus?

 

Demarion: In Lexington, in general, people clutch their purses or they'll watch their store more when you walk in... I'm a customer, a paying customer. I'm not gonna bother you. Those are microaggressions.

 

In my hometown, they lock the doors. You can hear the lock. One time, I remember driving a golf cart at Reunion to pick up one of our alumni. They asked me, "What's your name?" And I said, "Demarion." They went, "What?" Then they looked at my name tag and went, "Wow, y'all have some difficult names." And I was like…. y'all have difficult…? 

 

Then there was one time I was catering an event in high school at a bed and breakfast. This lady came up to me and asked, "Where are you from?" I said, "Oh, I'm from Maysville, Kentucky." She went, "No, like, where are you from?" And I was like, "Maysville, Kentucky." She persisted, "Where's your family from?" I was like, "We're from Kentucky. We are from Maysville, Kentucky." And she went, "Oh, okay." I was just like, Can I not be from Kentucky?

 

Etta: Have you ever felt ashamed or scared to share your culture with others out of fear of being perceived as different?

 

Demarion: Yes. Because Black culture is so much more expressive than White culture is. I am typically more exposed to White culture, and I know what about my culture is not okay by White standards. So it's like, do I share my culture with someone else? Do I share it with my friends and risk them going, "Oh…."

 

I'll get handed the aux in the car and be told to play something. And I wouldn't know if I can just play songs that I was raised on. Someone who was raised in my culture would go, "Oh, I know this." But it’s like, how do I share? 

 

Etta: Is there anything else you want others to know? 

 

Demarion: I would say, in the context of being Black and looking at the Black culture, there's more stories than one. You can't take your biases and stereotypes and cast it on everyone because not everyone fits into them. Blackness looks different for each person. 

 

I just think there's more to the story than most people perceive or are exposed to. So it doesn't hurt to sit down with someone who isn't as articulate as I am or with someone who doesn't share your vocabulary. A lot of people from the Black culture are educated, but people don't recognize that because they weren't educated in a "White" context. 

 

I would say, be okay with knowing that there's more than one narrative and actually want to know those narratives.

 

© 2020 by Eliza Tan