You’re Not Black

On race, music, and exhaustion 

But Samer, you’re not Black!” the girl with the strawberry-blonde hair said to me in the middle of my high-school hallway, at the tail end of our conversation.

I looked at her. I chuckled a bit, as I walked to class. The girl assumed I had taken it lightly, and went on her way to class as well. This wasn’t the first time I had heard that sentence, and it wouldn’t be the last.

There are very few things I find myself offended by. I have been teased about my lack of physical strength. My sensitivity. My cynicism. All of these jokes I’ve taken in stride.

But the one thing I’ve hated to let go, are those words: “You’re not Black.

The older I get, the angrier it makes me. I’m not Black? What in the hell is that supposed to mean? Last I checked, I had dark skin. My parents were both born and raised in an African country. What part about me made me “not Black”?

I spoke with a friend about this a few days ago. It was the first time I had ever brought it up with anyone. His response was this: telling me that “I’m not Black” was meant to be a compliment in a way.

It made sense. As far as the kids in my class were concerned, I didn’t “act Black.” I didn’t adhere to the stereotypes they were used to seeing on Television, on Film, through music. I’m “not Black” because I don’t have a “Black accent.” I “wasn’t Black” because I was — and still am — quiet by nature in my classes. I wasn’t the loud, joking Will Smith they expected a Black person to be. I “wasn’t Black” because I was one of the five male Black students that were participating in an advanced program at my high-school.

I’m “not Black,” because I’ve been successful.

This method of thinking extends into other areas of my life, albeit more subtly. I am a hip-hop aficionado. It is, in my opinion, one of the most poetic forms of music in existence, and plays well to my writing sensibilities. The deft word-play, the use of practically every literary device, from the metaphor to the symbol, all wrapped up in a head-nodding beat — hip-hop is literature in musical form.

See I got fans that say “Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you,”/
Well I hate that, but I like you, at least I like that you/
Like me, so I won’t spite you, it’s not your fault you’re a white dude/ Likes white music I like too, just don’t be surprised by my IQ .
—Shad, “Stylin”

I don’t have many friends who agree. Most of them don’t listen to hip-hop, and those that do only like a particular artist or album. In fact, I've had to resort to the internet to discuss hip-hop with others who love the genre as much as I do. This stems from their surface-level understanding of hip-hop and its culture. If all of my knowledge of hip-hop came from what is played on the radio, I would probably hate it too.

Which makes it all the more disconcerting when I find myself playing music with a group of friends. I can’t play M.A.A.D City when I’m with them — the result will be a chorus of boos. “Switch to something else, not that Drugs/Money/Bitches crap!”

I suppose this piece is an attempt to make clear my exhaustion. The subtle racism that follows me wherever I go. As if being intelligent and Black is outside of the norm. As if listening to hip-hop jeopardizes that image of me. I’m tired of impulsively lowering the volume of a song on my headphones when I’m on my campus’ bus to a whisper — the same volume as the whisper that tells me that “I don’t belong here,” for one reason or another. And most of all, I’m tired of being considered too White to be Black, and too Black to be White.

To put it simply, I’d like to be whatever I damn well please, and let my actions speak for my personality. Not my skin color.

I’ll end this post with an interview with Aisha Tyler, who I believe sums my thoughts up well:

YT: Totally Biased: Extended Interview with Aisha Tyler

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