How being called American connected this singer to her blackness

For Black History Month, we're exploring history and identity through the lens of joy. Black joy is the ability to love and celebrate black people and culture, despite the world dictating otherwise. Black joy is liberation.

Kriss Mincey, 24, artist

I was sitting across from my Scottish and Tunisian roommates in a flat full of musicians in Hamburg, Germany, one night before sessions started at the DO School the next morning.

I remember them calling me American, and how that rang in my ears, because I had never been called that before. I was born in the United States, yes, but at a very young age it was understood that the sense of home that comes with national identity was reserved for white folks. My roommates kept calling me American, and I was waiting for the irony to set in, but it never did.

Camera icon Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer

For the first time, I thought to myself, I get to say what "America" looks like; I get to determine what is aesthetically and essentially American. And I remember taking the utmost joy, a joy that I had never felt before, in snapping my fingers, wagging my neck and saying all the things I grew up hearing among the mothers and sisters who raised me. For the first time, I recognized that I had permission to not only love my culture, but to also love it publicly. Because I was an American abroad, I could be anything I wanted to be, including black.

In the States, I experienced being black as this blanket narrative that no one cared about, because it was assumed that we have no history. And so the logic goes: If you don't have a history, and you're not connected, then you're not worth knowing. So, I grew up feeling ashamed of my culture, an apparent vestige of our starting from nothingness.

Camera icon michael braynt / Staff Photographer

That night with my new girlfriends, I recalled at first being afraid to wear my name-plate necklace and gold-hoop earrings, but I later decided it didn't have to be that way anymore. For the first time, I could let go of any fear that I wasn't valued.

Most remarkable about this Black Joy moment was that I wasn't experiencing it alone. My new friends were experiencing what it meant to be "American," too. I felt like I had won an Olympic gold medal, and I wanted to run back across the ocean to tell everyone about it.

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