Less than black
At 3 am this morning, I wondered if this text would make it into the archives of my daily journal. If I was to stick to my ideals of writing the truth of my own experience, then I believed I had no choice but to publish this story. I'm certain it will only serve as cause to exasperate my situation. I don't care. Look away now if you are the type to become infuriated by deep discussions of race. If you're particularly offended because someone doesn't see things the way that you do, stop reading right now and save yourself the negative emotions.
The phrase “You are not black enough” sears like acid poured into my ears. It boils my blood to the point of madness. How dare anyone take it upon themselves to strip away my identity. Whoever speaks such a thing does so without understanding what blackness really means. And yet, I heard the comment again just last night from someone who I admired and considered a friend. That made it even more painful. This experience is like a poltergeist from my childhood that never stops following me no matter how far away from America go. What does it mean to be black? The first answer to this question is the incessant need to be forced by society to think about this topic. It is something that I hate America for because it's always Americans. I have never heard it from the Senegalese, Ghanaians, Nigerians, or Jamaicans. It is always my countrymen. I believe that with all of the hardships we have endured over the centuries, there should be an unshakeable bond of kinship that transcends the ridiculous notion that any one of us could be less than black. Unfortunately, all Americans are bound and caged by race.
A few days ago, I walked into a room and stumbled upon two white American men talking in hushed tones about the injustice of Derek Chauvin's trial verdict. I did not say a word to them but I could feel their sudden discomfort when they realized I was in the room. That was a sign that their argument most certainly was based not on morality, human decency, or the law. They were caught up in America's unholy and utterly sick obsession with race. I find the idea of race-based identity toxic, and yet it permeates every corner of American Society. Last night, I was drunk so there was a part of myself that made me wonder if I had not misheard because I was also stuck in the tar pit of this way of thinking, especially since I had been so deftly gaslighted into believing I may have been the one in the wrong. Then, I heard it again and knew it wasn't my imagination.
They say you should walk a mile in another man's shoes, but we all walk the same miles in the same shoes. Like all human beings, I too have a desire to belong somewhere and have a group that I can call my own. However, because of my natural born personality, I often found myself rejected by my own people. Every time, it hurts. In elementary school, it was because of my proper diction, which was the result of my educational upbringing. Later it was because I had “too many” close friends who were white, people who I met at school, work, or through mutual friends. Folks come down hard if you don’t believe in or accept widely held beliefs of the African American community. It feels like I lost a friend who was dear to me because he took moral offense at my pointing out that his blind rage and calls for violent retaliation against racist white America was playing into a trap of creating cause for escalating police brutality. It didn’t matter if I was right or wrong in my opinion. What should have been a simple difference of ideas seemed like a grave and unforgivable sin. It was as if he believed I had somehow chosen to reject my kind or secretly harbored desires to disavow myself of being black all together. I felt like he and the guy last night were imagining me alone in my bedroom praying as hard as I could to be transformed out of my skin. It is preposterous.
I love the beautiful color of my coffee hue and the magic that sparkles in the tone of my voice. I love the resilience I have inherited through the determination of my people to survive. I am proud of the contributions we have made to global culture. I know that America would never have risen to become a world power without us, first through forced labor, then through our force of will to innovate and thrive. We have been the moral conscious that forces the country to look at itself when it tries to hide its ugly shame. Our struggle has inspired humans across the globe to fight for their equal rights. I am proud of how we have never weakened even when forces within and without have worked to erode the foundations we have built with our ancestors. So, when one black person tells another that he or she is “not black”, it is an insult that cuts so deeply it burns at the center of the soul because it leaves that person a nomad without a tribe, unloved, rejected, and alone.
(I took this photo in Switzerland several years ago. )