Black Enough For you?
Today I had my blackness questioned, again. It is a familiar scenario that rears its ugly head from time to time, because I was raised in the suburbs. In this particular situation I wasn’t black because I didn’t know what dabbing was. For those that don’t know what dabbing is, like I didn’t, here is the definition from Wikipedia, “The Dab is a controversial dance in which the dancer simultaneously drops the head while raising an arm and the elbow in a gesture that has been noted to resemble proper sneezing etiquette and relates to being blazed out of one’s mind.”
Yes, my ability or knowledge to do this dance determined my lineage.
This time wasn’t the most ludicrous. There was this time in the early 2000’s when I wasn’t black because I didn’t drink orange or grape soda, like all the other black girls she knew that were from Camden. As the foolishness left her mouth, I wondered if she had ever had her ethnicity challenged. Whether she was ever called out for not being truly Italian.
The second most absurd was when I was working in a chain salon. My co-worker had a child by an African-American man and she was asking me if she should relax her 3 year old daughter’s hair. I said no. The child was under the age of 3 and her hair barely had a wave. “Well what do you know?” she quipped, “I’m blacker than you.” Then she proceeds to run down her list of reasons why she a bleach blond woman of Polish decent, was the true African-American. She spoke of her love of rap music, her baby’s daddy (and yes she used that term) who was in jail, and some other ridiculous stereotypic notions. She concluded her argument with, “Plus you’re not really black, like you read and shit.”
Then here we are in 2016, where the words “unapologetically Black” is being thrown around as a descriptor for Beyoncé’s SuperBowl performance and Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Oscars. I have to question who gets to decide when I deserve the ethnicity that I was born with. How can there be only one Black experience? When I think of “Blackness,” I don’t equate that with whether someone listens to rap music, knows the moves to some dance, goes to certain places to eat or wears their hair in a particular style. This new notion of “blackness,” which seems to be strongly linked to urban culture, is a concept in which I would never fit.
I grew up on Black History, Literature, Art, and Performance. I didn’t have to confirm my blackness in school during history class. When we learned about slavery, the freckled faces turned around to look at me. I didn’t have the ability to deny my ethnicity. In high school when they decided it was a good idea to read the first chapter of Huckleberry Finn aloud, everyone looked at me then too. Unlike ‘unapologetically Black’, I was ‘undeniably Black’. My blackness was nurtured by the writings of W.E.B DuBois, James Baldwin, Alex Haley, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. My blackness was raised listening to WDAS. I used Earth, Wind, and Fire to lift my spirits. I rocked out to Jimi Hendrix, danced to Ray Charles and sung along to Nina Simone. I admired the art of Ernie Barnes’ The Sugar Shack, the collage work of Romare Bearden and the documentary photojournalism of Gordon Parks. I remember seeing Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones and thinking how beautiful she was, Diana Ross in Mahogany and the way she sang. Then there arehe painful conflicted feelings I still get when I watch The Imitation of Life or A Solider’s Story.
There is not one “uniform” black experience. There is not one archetype of black indiviual. Blackness, just like any other identifier — female, suburban, heterosexual, etc does not just exist within a stereotype. What it comes down to is the black female that said that to me had such a narrow view of blackness, that she couldn’t see and appreciate the world I lived in. The blackness I carried. Her world was limited to Hip-Hop videos, Beyoncé’s gyrations and material things. I am open to the fact that my experience through this life is not the same as hers. The difference is, I would never deny this woman her DNA.