Dear Black Body

Anthony Conwright is an African-American writer and teacher who grew up in Southeastern San Diego. His autobiographical essay “Dear Black Body” was published by the Huffington Post and on his blog, Black and Wordy, in December.

Conwright wrote the essay on his 30th birthday. In it he reflects on how he grew to accept and embrace his black body “in a world that seems anti-black.”

“Because I’m in this body there is sort of a preset condition I have to live with,” Conwright told KPBS Midday Edition Monday.

He said the color of his skin and the neighborhood he grew up in caused him to be desensitized to violence in a way that, as he grew older, his peers weren’t. And he said it added pressure to beat the odds.

“Throughout my life I’ve had a lot of anxiety, not only about the amount of pressure Americans put on themselves about being 30, but about avoiding statistics,” said Conwright, who is currently working to build a middle school in Mumbai, India.

He said he remembers growing up thinking that if he reached certain age milestones he’d be OK.

“If I make it to 25 and graduate from college, I avoid falling victim to gang violence,” he said. “If I make it to 30, now I’m really in the clear.”

Here is an excerpt from the essay, “Dear Black Body”:

“You were nervous, but you had already seen a shooting at a park, and the sounds from the anthem of the destruction of black bodies had become fluent to your ears: the percussion of the slide, the base of the hammer, the bang of the bullet, the scratch of the tires, and the horns from the sirens. The music of the neighborhood saturated your room and you nodded your head along, as if 2PACALYPSE had been playing outside your window.

You carried those beats into schools and peer groups, but quickly realized your neighborhood didn’t sound like other peoples’ neighborhoods and their bodies didn’t face the same threats of physical destruction as your body. The experiences to which you spoke were like a foreign language to some, so you held your tongue. Too prideful for pity, and too prideful to sound like “one of those kids from the ghetto.” You had too much dignity to share stories that might beseech emotional handouts.”

Conwright said he owes his success to his parents.

“My mother and father raised me to avoid those things and I think my dad in particular always did a good job of raising by example,” Conwright said.

He had these words for black youth still trying to find comfort and strength in their bodies.

“You’re a person, and it’s OK to go through the struggle of discovering self love,” Conwright said. “You’re a person that matters.”