The First Time I Realized I Was Black

“It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me… In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.”

- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

I read Du Bois for the first time when I was a sophomore in high school. My teacher at the time, who taught African American literature, spent many lectures unpacking double-consciousness, “the veil,” and what it means to be black in America. 

Du Bois’ words have stuck with me since then. They followed me to Kathmandu, where I found a copy of his essays in a tiny bookshop in Thamel; then to SOAS University of London, where I conceived the idea for this visual project; and finally, to CNN, where I had the chance to bring it to life under the guidance of Producer Tawanda Scott Sambou.

This project is a glimpse into a moment that so many people of color experience but never get the chance to vocalize. My hope is that it creates room for dialogue and expands, however slightly, your understanding of race and identity. 

In honor of black history and culture, this month and every month, this is The First Time I Realized I Was Black.