California-born Nalani James says she doesn’t want people to define her by her Blackness, but instead to see it as another facet of her unique identity. “A lot of times people want to try and quantify what blackness is,” James said, there’s a lot of things to go with being Black” (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

While there’s no single experience that defines being Black in America, the Black experience in Alaska encompasses a relatively small demographic – each of whom has a unique story to tell. In honor of Black History Month, KCAW’s Tash Kimmell explores what it means to be Black in a small Alaskan town. In part one of our series, “Black in Sitka,” Kimmell meets with Farmers Marker Manager, and owner of “Eggstravagant Eggs,” Nalani James. Listen Below:

“I’m relatively new to Alaska within the last three years. But I’ve spent seven summers in Yakutat Alaska. it this was an instance of meeting someone you fall in love. And then you turn out, it turns out that they come from Alaska. He vowed to move back home. And I had a few choices of where we were set to move. So I settled on Sitka. 

Oftentimes, people ask me, where did you come from? That’s like the age old question. And it’s really hard to answer 

But I originally come from Los Angeles, California, in the area that I grew up in was a predominantly Black area. Kind of like New York, where you have boroughs of areas of the Jewish community or Hindu community, those things kind of infiltrated themselves into my everyday life. So when I look at people, and I go about the everyday life with living in Alaska, I don’t necessarily have that, that I do notice. And I wish it wasn’t as polarized.

I do want to be noticed for the mere fact that I am different, but it’s a different sort of recognition that I like to have, that where it’s not, is she capable? Is she able? Is she all of those things that that go with questioning, like, particular credibility, those are the things that I don’t want to be associated with my Blackness.

I think a lot of people don’t really know what it means to be Black. And that’s why I really like when when kids see me because kids talk to me, kids ask questions, you know, ‘You look different.’ ‘Can you tell me about yourself?’ You know, ‘I know you wear that wrap on your head’ and and they ask and I tell them but, you know, I just give them the gist of I just want to be seen as a person and not as my hair. And usually Black people are seen for their, you know, beauty instead of their mind and their talent. And I don’t want to be judged on those things.

My two children, they are Tlingit, Navajo and Black, as well as having Japanese ancestry.

When we go back home to LA, one time we rolled down the window, and my daughter said, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of Black people.’ And she was only about 10 years old. So if she notices it without me saying anything. Yeah, this is something that it is a concern for mine. But honestly, I think I offer enough Blackness, for one, even maybe even 60 people. So so that’s something that honestly, I have thought about. I don’t want them to be seen as people of color first, in first and foremost, I want them to be seen as people who have value. And by the way, they are multiethnic, multicultural.

They have experienced some some racist things. And they’ve been asked the question, ‘Is that your mom? Are you adopted?’ because of their skin tone, things like that. But I knew that was said to her and these are the things that as a person of color, you look at your child when they’re born. And you know what’s what’s going to come, you know, the conversations that you have to have. So the conversations in my household are different than conversations and white households.

A lot of times people want to try and quantify what Blackness is. There’s a lot of things to go with being Black 

There’s some nuances to being Black. And there’s a certain warmth that I know that we offer. It’s kind of a shame that we have such a small population of Black people. But I’d say just just treat us just like anybody else in a kind, generous way.”

Tash Kimmell is a Report for America Corps Member