I wrote this story almost a decade ago. With all of the discussions and commentary that I’ve gotten lately, I thought it would be a great time to just present you with a little personal story. I hope you enjoy it.
I was 16 before I truly learned that being black wasn’t a conscious decision one could make, that it wasn’t about a way of life, but that it is a part of who you are no matter what else you do. There were only 5 other black children in my grade school, although race was never an issue. At least not at school. Of course there were those times when my race was most definitely an issue, times when I would walk into a store and the clerk would stare me down as I looked through the aisles at the toys and candy for sale. Yes, I had had times where a clerk would accuse me of trying to steal, for no other reason than because I was black. One of my best friends in grade school was told I was not allowed to come over to her house, or she to mine, because I was black. My grandparents had next door neighbours who used the word nigger rather frequently. But I always thought they were only a few ignorant people still stuck in the 1800s who didn’t realize that times had changed. For the most part, though, being black was just what as I was, as much as being a girl, or a human for that matter, was beyond my control.
But then I arrived at middle school, and my entire self-concept changed. Suddenly I was at a school where black people made up a decent portion of the population. And it was from the other black students that I first learned I wasn’t black. Sometimes it was admitted that I was black, but just not black enough. Ok, so this may seem nonsensical to those of you who have never experienced this before, and to those of you who have you must be chuckling in agreement. You see, I was told that because I wasn’t a big fan of rap music, because most of my friends were white, because I didn’t speak in slang, and because I didn’t smoke weed, that I wasn’t black. For some reason, this actually made sense to me, and for the next few years I made it my mission to try to learn to speak black and act black. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get it, although for the life of me I tried. I listened to BET and bought clothes by Baby Phat. I said things like ‘yo, what the dilly yo’ and learned the words to just about every gangster rap song known to man. But it didn’t work. According to them I was still not black.
It wasn’t until my sixteenth birthday that I finally realized the error of my ways. You see, prior to this time I had become very interested in black history and I had started doing some research into the civil rights movements. I began to see that speaking with proper English and getting good grades in school was something my forefathers had fought long and hard for a chance to do. The right not to be labeled just because of one’s skin colour was still an ongoing battle, although things were improving. There were black people across the world that weren’t good at playing basketball, didn’t like rap music, and had white friends, but who were successful and happy, and being recognized by black associations like the NAACP as being successful black people. I made it my mission to find out what made these people blacker than I was, and what I could do to be like them and show the world that I was black and proud. Clearly, I still hadn’t gotten the picture yet.
But then came my sixteenth birthday, which as I said is when I finally learned that one can’t just choose not to be black, just as much as it wasn’t possible for someone to decide to be black. You see, I was in a group of white people, 6 to be exact, and they were all dressed in urban apparel and were smoking marijuana. I didn’t do drugs, so I was just there for the company. We were listening to some music and playing dominoes, my friends smoking pot, when out of the blue 2 cops appeared in my friend’s backyard. When the officers walked straight past my friend holding the joint, past my friends who were dressed in the urban apparel, and walked up to me, who by the way was dressed in dress pants and a short sleeved blouse, I was a little shocked (after all, they were being blacker than I was-what made me so special?). When they asked me where I get my pot from, and I told them I don’t smoke it, they hauled me up from the bench, twisting my arm behind my back and pinning me to the table. When one of my friends, the one coincidentally who had been holding the joint when the cops appeared, tried to come to my rescue, one of the officers replied. “Don’t protect these little black punks. Always trying to bring their shit into our neighbourhoods. Dirty little whore. Little nigger bitch”.
So, you see, it was at that moment, with my chest pinned to a table, my arm crying out in agony, that I realized being black was not a choice. I was black by default. It was on my skin and was the first thing people saw when they looked at me. So, all this time, my nave thoughts when I was younger that I was just black and that’s all there was to it weren’t so ridiculous all along. Being black was not a way of life, it was a race. And not following the urban culture didn’t make me any less black than if I had. It started to occur to me that the other black children who had called me not black had a very negative, stereotypical, and entire inaccurate view of what it meant to be black. I think at that point everything came together for me, and I was no longer ashamed of not being black enough. I was proud that as a black person I had a healthy self-concept, and I was intelligent and articulate and not one dimensional.
So now, when another black person tells me I’m not black enough, I can ask them why. No matter what they say, they’ll never have an answer that makes any sense because no matter what they have to say, I’m just as black as they are. And in case I forget I can always look down at my arm, or at my face in a mirror, and see the blackness that I had spent so much time striving for, staring back at me.
And that was another Classic Ruby original y’all. I hope you enjoyed it. If you’re into short stories, you might enjoy:
And if it’s just more of personal stories of growth and development, you could always check out the Aging Crisis digital story.
Thanks for coming along on this adventure with me this month, y’all. I learning, and re-learning, a lot about myself and the world, and my readers. I’m learning a lot about what has changed and how much it has changed, and how long it has taken for the change to happen. And the more I learn, the more I can and will share with you guys. Tune in next week, there are some fantastic posts heading your way. And keep one eye open for a hot new Slam Poetry piece, coming your way this weekend. Oh, and speaking of the weekend,
Happy Weekend Y’all! TGIF! <– ummmm hmmm, I know THAT’S right!
P.S. I found this video on YouTube and it fits perfectly with what this post and story are all about. And the funny thing is, in Canada that girl would be, by the “ignant standards” at least double the black that I am, so she’d have absolutely no problem. LOL.