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'To be black doesn’t have to mean anything more than what I already am'

For Black History Month, we're exploring history and identity through the lens of joy. Black joy is the ability to love and celebrate black people and culture, despite the world dictating otherwise. Black joy is liberation.

» READ MORE: Sonia Galiber

My high school was pretty segregated. As a biracial kid, I didn't know what to do. I wasn't black enough or Asian enough. That's when I developed an inferiority complex.

Throughout all of this, I'm also dealing with needing to be Japanese enough. My mother's family didn't approve of my parents' marriage. My grandparents got to know my dad, but there are some extended family members that I'm just meeting.

It was a motivating force for me. I went to Japanese school every Saturday from third grade to high school. That was an identity I was chasing in the same way that I was chasing blackness.

When I got to college, I made healthy friendships with black women who didn't use my biracial identity against me or to judge me. But there were times I was fetishized; some of the guys would literally call me "that Asian jawn."

But a part of my identity experience is also identifying my privilege. The black girls who challenged my blackness — I came to understand that it's not about me.

Antiblackness is going to hit people who are black harder than people who are mixed-race black. This hostility coming my way is coming from frustration. because I am protected from that emotional violence. I cannot call myself a victim, because my privilege is a point of tension. If you want to dismantle a system of oppression, you can't just know how it oppresses you, but how you benefit from it.

I went back to Japan for a year.  I would speak fluent Japanese, and they would speak to me in English. They have a very European standard of beauty and can be very colorist.  They really put the people who are half-white on a pedestal. Even if  black folks don't think I'm black enough in America, when I'm in Japan, I am black.

I really have an appreciation for the subcultures in Japan that were more embracing, like the LGBT community and the Japanese folks who were into hip-hop and break-dancing. Those communities wanted to get to know me and wanted to have conversations with me.

I found joy in realizing that the criteria to be black don't have to mean anything more than what I already am.  I feel like I've been through the affirmations and invalidations. And I'm in a very unapologetic place. My value doesn't come from someone else's reference.

As black people, we are not afforded the space to be ourselves, whether that be code switching or because we have to dress a certain way to not be seen as a threat or we have to carry ourselves this way or that way. Black people don't have the space literally and metaphorically in society. So without that space, we will never know ourselves, and we can't save ourselves if we don't know ourselves. And no one is going to  do it for us.

Share your Black Joy story: We want to hear from you. Click here for the details on how to share your story about Black Joy and read more stories from around Philadelphia.