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No Longer Bound: Accepting All of Who I Am

By Dalevyon L.J. Knight, Crimson Opinion Writer
This piece is a part of a focus on Black authors and experiences for Black History Month.

“You’re the whitest Black person I’ve ever met.”

These words ring in my ears even to this day, but I’ve never quite understood them. Their racism is pernicious because it’s indirect, implicitly reinforcing stereotypes about what a Black person should be: classless, uneducated, and complicit.

Throughout high school, this sentence, and others like it, forced me to question my identity. I thought I had to fit into certain, unspoken criteria in order to be accepted by others. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, there was this pressure.

I hoped that Harvard — diverse, brainy, liberal — would offer an escape. I wanted to be unabashedly proud of who I was and not let others’ opinions hold me back.

I was wrong. At Harvard, especially after the fall of race-based affirmative action, I face the same impossible dilemma, but with a twist: This time, I am not white enough. My opinions are met with intense scrutiny, and I have to constantly fight to be respected.

I am stuck in the same place as I was in high school.

So this Black History Month, in hopes of breaking free from this pressure, I’ve given myself a new challenge. This Black History Month, I am challenging myself to own all aspects of my identity.

I had the idea at the start of the month, as I was studying great Black figures in American history. One man captured my eye in particular: Max C. Robinson.

Robinson was an American broadcaster in the mid-20th century, a time when the world of mass media was overwhelmingly white. In 1959, Robinson landed a job as a newscaster, but was hidden from the public eye while on air, forced to sit behind a projection of the news station’s logo.

One day, Robinson broadcasted without the projection. The next day, he was fired.

This setback, while indefensible, was only temporary. Ten years later, he would become the first Black anchor on a local television news program. He would go on to co-anchor for ABC.

Robinson fought to be seen, to be heard, and to be valued, and he won. His life and legacy have taught me many things, most of all the value of not hiding my identity or purpose from others. This fight begins with self-acceptance; only from there can we pursue progress for ourselves and for society.

As for me, this Black History Month means owning all aspects of my identity. I’ve taken concrete steps this month to foster this sense of self-confidence in my identity, from joining the Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal to chairing a committee for the Harvard Model United Nations conference. As I’ve taken these steps, though, I’ve also realized that the journey of taking pride in my identity will never be complete without some intense soul searching, too.

And I must admit, this journey has been painstakingly slow, and I am still sorting through some parts of my identity. What does it mean to be a person of color in a predominately white institution? How does my Christian background come into play? How do I reconcile my upbringing as a South Floridian with my political views?

These questions have not been easy to answer, but, slowly, I am figuring myself out in the process of answering them.

After years of feeling lost in high school, I felt outsized pressure to fast-track this process of finding myself. I had forgotten that college is precisely the place to deconstruct the identities that have been placed upon ourselves by others and reconstruct new ones, allowing ourselves time to make mistakes along the way.

Getting more in touch with our identities does not mean changing who we are. And not all of the changes we do make will be apparent to others. Getting in touch with my creative side has led me to journal more often. This process of self-reflection and processing my emotions is not something others see, but I know how impactful it’s been.

We have our whole lives to figure out who we are; we don’t need to rush. In fact, the internal search takes time and this time is an integral part of figuring out who we are.

I still don’t understand those racist words I was told in high school. But that doesn’t matter now. I no longer strive to conform with others’ stereotypes or impressions of what a Black person should be.

I call on each of us to follow in Max Robinson’s footsteps and view this Black History Month as a launchpad to begin — or to continue — taking ownership of our identities. Even if some parts of them are still undiscovered.

Dalevyon L.J. Knight ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall.

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