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.
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.
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.