Mi Vida Negra Matters Too

Nicole R. Smith
8 min readSep 3, 2020

I recently had an opportunity to share with a group of people what our organization was doing in terms of diversity within our volunteer program. Something happened that ALWAYS happens to me, but this time it truly enraged me, so I am doing what I always do, I am writing about it.

First of all, let me acknowledge that racism happens in many forms. Essentially, if you are not white, racism can rears its ugly head towards you. Even if you are white and happen to be poor, then there is classism which is racism-like for white people, and if you are Jewish and white then you have antisemitism. If you are white and Asian you face your own set of challenges. The list goes on.

I am not denying any of that. However, what is at the forefront right now is a matter of Black and White. Period. Regardless of your heritage, your cultural background, simply Black and White. What do I mean by that? It all basically comes down to this: If you walk in a room and don’t speak, based solely upon what they see, what will people make an instant judgement call on?

I am PROUD of my rich cultural background. I myself am a first generation American born on U.S. soil. I was born to a Panamanian Mother AND Father whose parents hailed from Costa Rica and Jamaica. So I am a wonderful combination of Latina, Caribbean, West Indian and American.

But, when I walk in a room, the only thing people see is Black.

I don’t have the opportunity to start speaking Spanish, or talk about eating platanos maduros y arroz con pollo, ox tail or ackee and saltfish. They don’t get to hear the slight Caribbean accent that surfaces when I am vex or really trying to emphasize a point, or watch my eyes light up when I hear Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Cumbia, Calypso or Soca music.

All my life, I never really fit in. I was Black, so I would get the evil eye from White people. I was born in the states and spoke primarily English, so I wasn’t Latino enough. But probably, worst of all, Black people didn’t accept me because I wasn’t “Black” enough. I say worst of all, because I wasn’t prepared for that. I knew what to expect from White and Hispanic people, but this, I wasn’t ready for.

When I was FINALLY able to walk in a room and I DID look like everyone else, it was an unimaginable feeling of acceptance and belonging…or so I thought, because it was short lived. When I did finally open my mouth, I was an OREO — Black on the outside but “White” on the inside. When I spoke Spanish, I was Mexican. When I spoke English, I ridiculed for “speaking like a White girl”, and I even had a “White girl” name. I used to be so upset with my parents. Why couldn’t I have a good Panamanian, or any Spanish sounding name for that matter, like everyone else in my family? Well, I learned later that there is power in a name and my name means “Victorious Spirit”, thus my parents named me perfectly. By simply uttering my name people are speaking my success into existence whether they want to or not. Anyhoo I digress.

So back to this meeting. I was speaking about what the difference between a diversity training and an anti-racism meeting addressing the Black and White issue when I was abruptly interrupted. I was caught off guard and agitated at the same time. I could feel the rage rising up in me, but I had to manage it, because God forbid, I don’t want to look like the “angry Black woman.”

The interruption bothered me for three reasons.

  1. I hate, no detest, being cut off when speaking. I do my absolute best not to do it to others because I feel like it is extremely rude.
  2. In my personal opinion the interjection didn’t line up with my train of thought. It actually derailed the thought and took the conversation in a completely different direction because I was cut off before I could define the direction of the thought. So I had to redirect the conversation back to where I was originally headed which can be extremely challenging to do without seeming bossy and quite frankly rude.
  3. From my point of view, being on the receiving end of the interruption, the words he spoke made an incorrect assumption about who I am. It acknowledged that I am Black, but discounted that I am Latina.

I am glad the interruption happened for three reasons:

  1. It forced me to stand my ground and stick up for myself (ugh I hate that).
  2. It gave me a chance to add credibility to what I was saying because I was able to speak to the interrupter's point that racism is more than just Black and White because I have to deal with it FIRST HAND as someone who is Black AND Latina.
  3. A woman on the call told me afterwards that it was empowering because I didn’t allow the white male in the room to dominate the conversation, but I held my ground gracefully and eloquently. That part was pretty cool because that is not AT ALL how I felt on the inside.

With all that is going on in the world today, this meeting was just another reminder that I am constantly on the wrong end of an assumption on many levels. Being Black in America already has it’s challenges, but being Black and from a different cultural background has it’s own set of challenges.

When I hear the phrase “BLACK LIVES MATTER” Sometimes I get mixed feelings because, depending on who is saying it, “they” don’t mean me.

White AND Black people alike have told me “you aren’t Black, you are Hispanic.” I have heard people say, “I don’t see color. When it comes to people, I am color blind.” Although I understand the intention of what they are saying, by denying you see my brown skin erases an integral part of who I am. I would rather you acknowledge that you DO see it and ACCEPT it for how beautiful it is and then consciously choose not to treat me differently because of it.

I have often been told by African Americans that since my grandparents were not slaves on American soil, “my blackness really doesn’t count”, or how I even felt about the issue didn’t matter because I couldn't directly relate. I have never denied that I can’t relate and I won’t pretend to know what it is like to have a grandparent or great grandparent who was a slave and the hardships they endured in this country. I have always respected and held in high regard those whose ancestors have to endure such hardship, but it often wasn’t reciprocated. Believe you me, my grandparent’s lives were no cake walk. But how would “they” know that? Did they even bother to ask? No. Assumptions were made and that was the end of the story.

Listen up. Black is Black. Period. My mother and I were followed in a mall department store before, I feel the angst when a white cop pulls me over, making sure my mother is on a active call and on speaker so she can hear everything just in case anything goes down. I have been subject to racial slurs while minding my own business walking down the street and, I have had to have multiple conversations with my daughter regarding what it means to be Black Woman in this country.

Being a Black, Latina, Single Mother in White America isn’t easy, but it has made me the person who I am today. In a recent candid interview with Michael McCabe on Cafe Buntu, for the first time ever in my life, I spoke publicly about what it was like growing up as a Black Latina in America. The timing was actually quite perfect because this interview happened about a week before the meeting that sparked this blog post, so I figured I would include it. Check it out here.

Being ostracized, criticized, overlooked and looked down upon all my life is what has given me the strength and capacity to care so much. I KNOW what it is like to feel all these things, so I can empathize with anyone else who feels ostracized, criticized and overlooked.

I believe all of this prepared me for my career in Volunteer Management. When it all boils down, managing volunteers is literally caring, not taking advantage of, showing appreciation for and respecting those who share their “voice” with the community by donating their time. It is why I try to have our program as inclusive as possible when we create committees so that every voice is heard because I KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE SILENCED.

It is why I am so passionate about creating journals that affirm, encourage and uplift others, especially professional women, single mothers and volunteer engagement managers, because I KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO BE DISCOUNTED.

I write this blog post not because I want sympathy or to be pitied. I am ok. I write this as a reminder that Black is Black. No matter from what cultural background one originates. I write this to challenge everyone to stop and think before uttering the phrase “you aren’t Black” because I guarantee you, we get removed from diner counters, denied service and sent to the back of the bus too.

Yo Soy Black Latina, y Mi Vida Negra Matters Too.

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, single mother, workforce development specialist, dancer, motivational speaker and published author of Game On! Relentlessly Pursue Your Dreams and many inspirational note-taking journals including 101 Affirmations for Volunteer Administrators, Professional Women and Entrepreneurs, She attended Oral Roberts University on a Division I full-ride track scholarship. After graduating, she founded Step It Up! Inc., a non-profit dance organization. Her experience in sports and entertainment, radio, TV and the performing arts has spanned nearly 20 years covering the Chicago, Houston and Miami markets. She has prepared more than 500 interns to enter the workforce and has inspired crowds upwards of 2000. In 2019 she was listed as one of WLRN’s “Local Women Who Inspire You”, she was selected as one of Legacy Miami’s Most Prominent and Influential Black Women In Business and Industry of 2019 and became a contributing writer for The Life of a Single Mom. Her mission is based on Proverbs 13:19: A dream fulfilled is sweet to the soul. Her desire is to maximize and empower the potential of the invaluable workforce. Connect with her at www.nicolersmith.net and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.



Nicole R. Smith

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, single mom, workforce development specialist, published author, dancer, and motivational speaker. Her experience spans 20 yrs.