If you opened this thinking you were going to read about a wealthy mogul whose ultra elite black credit card was canceled by American Express, I apologize. That’s not what this article is about. While I’m pretty sure the black credit card does exist, this article isn’t about that type of black card.
The “black card” I’m referring to is the fictional certification attesting that a black person is, well, black. The card doesn’t actually exist in reality. But it does exist in theory. Having a black card means that someone is somehow upholding their blackness or making black people look good. Having your black card revoked means that a black person has made black people look bad in some way or done something that is stereotypically “not black.”
Black cards can be given and revoked with levity or with seriousness. All black people are born with this theoretical card and sometimes a friend will say in jest that they’re taking it away because the black person is wearing Teva’s. Or it will be revoked in anger because a black person takes a position on an issue that is seen by the revoker as hurting the interests of black people.
Everyone knows that you can’t actually lose your “blackness” by the taking away of a fictional card. But that fact doesn’t stop some black people from making the joke because that’s part of what makes it so funny, you can’t stop being black no matter what you do because it’s literally the color of your skin. It’s ridiculous.
But the ridiculous is often really funny. Plus, we all know that blackness is not usually just about color but culture, like music, hair, common experience — things having nothing to do with pigment. Those are the reasons the card is typically revoked — culture. And while it’s often done in jest it’s sometimes done to shame and humiliate.
No black person wants to be seen by other black people as not being “black enough.” Being black is important to black people and being told by another black person that you’re not upholding your blackness can sting. It can also inhibit creativity and individuality. I have a long history with this topic. The real question is — why is blackness defined anyway? I mean, it makes sense that it is but then, it doesn’t really make sense that it is. You dig?
Here are the myriad reasons people have attempted to revoke my black card over the years, all of them in hindsight, ridiculous which is why I think they’re so funny.
Wearing my hair in a ponytail
I was shocked when someone tried to revoke my card for this. I remember being told that it was a white girl hairstyle. White people haven’t cornered the market on ponytails! I actually think they started with the Manchu in Asia.
Not knowing the names of any black opera singers
Do I have to know the name of every black person who’s done everything? We’ve actually done a lot of stuff. It’s a long list. It’s lots of long lists.
Raising my hand to answer a question in class
I heard this one a lot. What can I say? I was a nerd and I liked to talk in class. Go figure.
Saying the phrase “go figure”
I had heard it on tv and it just felt right to say it on the playground at that moment. The girl I was with looked at me like I had 2 heads. I aim to bring “go figure” into the black lexicon.
Having a white friend
To quote Katt Williams, “I don’t care what anybody says — white people are friendly!” I had and continue to have a lot of close white friends but my card was often revoked for it.
Not being able to double dutch
It’s a form of jump rope but with 2 ropes. It’s really hard.
Not knowing how to do the butterfly
It’s a dance. Or at least it was back when I was younger. This isn’t it, but it might as well be because I can’t do this either.
Auditioning for the school play
Drama was seen by some of the kids at my school as not “black enough.” Not sure how or why since the list of black performers is hella long — I can certainly name a ton of people on this list. Still falling short on black opera singers though. Go figure.
Not knowing what the colors of the “African flag” stood for
I know there is no “African flag” because Africa is a continent, not a country. The kid in my middle school was referencing a generic flag on his t-shirt. I don’t even know if the flag was legit, but the shade he threw me was real.
My jeans not being baggy enough
I like form fitting clothes. I always have. Go figure.
Not singing in the church choir
I wanted to but according to my mother I can’t sing.
I’m happy to share that although my black card was revoked many times over the years for the above and other transgressions, I still have it. I remain black. Always have been. Always will be. Go figure.