What being American Means to me

By Maddi Stewart | Sidwell Friends
Art by Ella Majd | Sidwell Friends

People tell me that I have won the oppression jackpot. As a bisexual Black woman, I often feel defeated. I feel like this country hates me, and I feel like all of my identities are under attack. I am afraid to walk down the street by myself at night because of the high rates of sexual assault on women. I am constantly told that my life does not matter, I am less than human, and that I will never be good enough because I am Black. My sexuality is regularly invalidated. I am told that "it's just a phase" and that my sexuality is a choice. I am scared to come out to my extended family in fear of retribution. I see people who are exactly like me being killed every single day for just being themselves. This country has given me more than enough trauma for merely existing.

To me, being American means never feeling safe. To constantly look over my shoulder and be ready to run. I can never truly be myself because I don't know which part of my identity will trigger hate or violence. Being American means having to change or hide parts of myself to be seen as acceptable in society. It means straightening my hair because my natural hair is seen as unprofessional. It means toning down my volume because I don’t want to seem like the stereotypical loud and rambunctious Black girl. It means having to constantly think about if I am too loud or too rambunctious when having fun with my friends. In terms of my sexuality, it means having to lie to my family about who I’m dating or having to dodge uncomfortable questions about love and my future in fear of them being unsupportive.

I wish I could see America the way others do—a country for dreamers and countless opportunities. The notion that America is a “free” country and that anyone can be successful is fueled by the concept of the American Dream. Unfortunately, the American Dream fails to acknowledge the oppression that is rooted in almost every system in America. Because of systemic oppression, it makes it nearly impossible for marginalized groups to succeed and truly discover the American Dream. Unfortunately, obtaining the Dream comes at a high cost: one must be willing to lose themself, their friends, family, and sometimes even their life.