By Gabriella Gricius
It's hard being black, admitted Taylor Johnson, 22, as she contemplated the question of race in Berlin versus the United States. Recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Exchange for Young Professionals, Johnson spent most of 2015 living, studying and working in Berlin. Although she tries not to make race a part of her daily life, Johnson acknowledges that, "people don't understand, when you're black, race plays a role in every aspect of your life." Occasionally breaking out into a wry smile and chuckle, Johnson contemplated race, affirmative action and what it is to be black in a country plagued by continuing racism.
Q: What was it like growing up black in the United States?
A: That's a difficult question to answer… I grew up in the Detroit area; that's majority black. The thing is, when you're only around black people, you don't think about being black, But I woke up and told myself, Taylor, get back to reality. Stop living in a dream world because this is about race. It is all about race.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: In some way, when you grow up being black, you are taught to have these beauty standards you will never achieve. For example, we're told that straight hair is the best hair, but if I straighten my hair all of the time – I will damage it. This is how my hair grows out of my scalp. What do you mean it's not professional? Being black, you question your beauty. You question your intellect. You question your qualifications. You question everything about yourself because you are conditioned to think that you are not equal to everyone else.
Q: Do you think things have gotten any better under Obama?
A: No. Some people think that just because we have a black president, that it's a testament to why racism doesn't exist anymore. That is not the case whatsoever. It has gotten better. For the younger generation, we never thought we'd see a black president… Obama being in office lets us know we can't be stopped. Do I think it will happen again? No. But the fact that it happened once, technically two times, that sends a very powerful message to the black community.
Q: And what do you think about affirmative action?
A: You don't want to throw a pity party for being black, because it doesn't stop you from doing anything. You do have to work harder, and that's not fair. The only way you can advance is economically.
Q: Do you think white privilege plays a role in that?
A: People don't understand white privilege, but you can't deny it. I think the reason most white people don't care to talk about race is that they feel bad. They find it difficult to admit they have it better off than other people. However, no one is faulting you. It's all about the dialogue and to be able to better understand. When you are a position to help others; that is when you use your white privilege to help people. When you see something, speak up… when somebody that's white speaks up about this, unfortunately, it means more than what I'm saying.
Q: As a black woman?
A: As any minority. I feel I have to put my black identity first, even above feminism, and there's even separation in that.
Q: You're referring to the "white feminists"?
A: Yes. They are trying to differentiate between black and white women. And that for me is another reason to put black first. It is the first thing you notice about me. When someone disrespects me, I would assume it was because I was black, and not because I was a woman. When you're black, you have to always question: what if I had been white or anything other than what I am?
Q: Especially being black and a woman.
A: Exactly! It's a double whammy. Being a woman is hard, but being a black woman is harder.
Note: This interview was conducted in February 2016