Black On Neither Side

Yesterday, as Gabe and I contemplated the implications of our most recent social post for RUNAWAY, I shared with him an idea that I’ve been wrestling with for most of my life.

Here’s a not-so-brief timeline:

HIGH SCHOOL

Even though I grew up in a mixed-race household, many of my closest friends are White. This wasn’t by choice, but simply by proximity. That comes with a certain culture, way of life, etc. While I didn’t really think about my race that often, as I got older, it became a thing I had to deal with, both internally and externally.

All the things I associated with Black culture like hip-hop and basketball, I first picked up with my White friends, but I never felt like those things made me more Black.

WINSTON SALEM STATE UNIVERSITY

It wasn’t until I got to Winston Salem State, a historically black college/university, that I started to understand how I was perceived in the larger community.

My best friend at WSSU, after only a few weeks hangin’ together, gave me the nickname “Kevin Federline” because of my “White” behaviors i.e. jump shooting, listening to conscious hip-hop, and using few ebonic phrases in my speech.

You know, white people stuff. Stuff Kevin Federline would do.

Having no real interaction with the Black community outside of my family, it didn’t dawn on me that I was seen as a stereotypically White person by my Black peers. Not that I was trying to shy away from being Black, or didn’t want to be White, but for some reason, ironically, it made me feel like a black sheep in the Black community being the White guy.

So…

  • I wasn’t White to my White friends, but I wasn’t really Black either.
  • I wasn’t Black to my Black friends.

This put me somewhere in the ballpark of Will Smith-level Black, which explains why Big Willie Style was the first CD I ever bought.

Shout out Millennium Music.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

At Durham Tech, there is a strong contingent of international students. I met people from all across the world whose families now live in the Triangle. It was incredibly enlightening to be around people who have very different world views than mine, and learn from their experience. It also made me the least Black person in the crew. Again. This time, I was beaten out by friends who were actually from the Motherland. That said, I felt much more at home with my international crew than I did in my one semester at WSSU.

NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL UNIVERSITY

Enrolling at NCCU afforded me the opportunity to learn about Black culture on a deeper level than I ever had before. I took a couple classes, one specifically on Tyler Perry movies (regardless of the fact that I hate his work), to try a wrap my head around some ideas I had about Black culture and my own existence in it. Analyzing media, perception and culture through an academic lens was the way I needed to digest it at this point in my life.

RUNAWAY

When we first debuted the Black Wall Street capsule collection, the idea was to highlight Durham’s progressive, diverse entrepreneurial history. It brought a lot of attention to the brand since it’s run by two guys in the racial minority.

All of a sudden, I was Black now.

The problem was, I was Black at the time it was most convenient. Whether it be to promote the company, promote an American Underground initiative, or our community, I found myself accepting my Black heritage for gains, not empowerment.


Now, when I have conversations about Black Lives Matter, and people look to me, or look to RUNAWAY to take a stance, or be a leading voice in the conversation, I feel jaded. The same types of people who in the past made me feel like I wasn’t Black enough now want me to march in solidarity as an equal.

I’m not one to hold a grudge, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling. For my whole life, I’ve blown in the wind, not sure where are the spectrum I fall in my racial characterization. Now, it’s being defined for me.

Part of me doesn’t want it defined. I never thought about it as a kid, and I prefer it that way. To say “I don’t see color” is cliche, sure, but it’s the way I accept everyone. Yeah, your race and color might create assumptions, but if I’ve never met you, who am I to say how you should and shouldn’t act?

When I spent time with my Muslim friends at Durham Tech, their perspective on US foreign policy, problems in their home countries, and life in the US helped me sympathize with their struggles, even if our lives weren’t the same.

I am sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter cause. I don’t believe in the looting, or the protesting, but over the last year at NCCU, I’ve learned to be sympathetic as I struggle through my identity crisis. I want people to see me for who I am, and not what I’m supposed to be.

This is a funny picture of my dog devouring a smoothie. Enjoy.

Originally published at buddyruski.tumblr.com.