The black experience is dictated by the colour of my skin. There is no room for my soul to fit in this picture you painted for me.

The black experience is a unique experience, but an experience nonetheless.

What do you see when you see me?

Try again.

Afternoons with my grandmother were quiet.

She would grate the parmesan cheese so fine that it looked like snow on top of a mountain.

I have memories of my ten-year-old self staring at her silhouette sitting on the stiff wooden chair, right next to the open terrace door in her tiny kitchen. With the morning sun glowing on her face, she held her cigarette between her fingers, her right elbow held up high. She would blow the smoke outside, lost in her thoughts, only to be drawn back by the simmering coffee on the stove.

I would watch her play solitaire with Briscola cards, while folk music was playing in the background.

She would look at me from across the table and smile.

Nonna, what did you see when you would look at me?

I never looked at myself in the mirror and took for granted that my reflection was the people around me.

I grew up in a bubble of art, music and books, until one day, it burst.

My hair was a riddle no one could solve. My features were questioned. My body was criticized, at times objectified. Random daily judgments hit harder than I could have ever imagined.

The art I loved so much followed me everywhere, I was surrounded by paintings and statues. Beauty and royalty defined, multiplied by the faces I would admire on the street, but who in return treated me like a novelty.

I’d get hit with surprise until numbness kicked in.

I internalized this new reality. Where was my humanity?

The color of my skin was like smoke in their eyes. What did they see?

Their perception was limitless and their imagination was dangerous.

We would twist and twirl around misconceptions, falling in an endless limbo of frustration and deception. Brushing against each other so close, but never touching, still falling.

I could not see, until one day, I saw clearly. My skin, my hair. A revelation.

I’ve always been here. We have always been here.

We are the same, you and I. We are different. We are the same.

Blow the smoke away from your eyes. Now, what do you see?

The full picture, not your painting.