You have just joined the Black Bean Culture and in here, we are talking about what it mean to be black– and we know that definition is different based on the viewer but we’re going to try to break it down a bit.
You know, it’s hard to be black and it never really occurred to me how hard until I was fully immersed in this country for a couple of years. United States has a way of making you feel your color and I started to feel it when my native accent started to disappear but perhaps before than in all black school on the Southside of Chicago.
Now, most people can take a look at me and recognize my people.
Ethiopians have a very distinctive looks and unless they are a bit on the ignorant side in which case they will ask,”are you Indian?” most can spot my Ethiopian origin.
But for a long time I was called the Oreo–looks black but acts whit–because the racism directed at black people from white people was not enough, blacks want to add their mix too.
In my all black middle school, ebonics was the language of the people. Anything different and your an Oreo- you sound too proper, not one of us. I remember having to edit and chip at my vocabulary to make them sound slang-ish but I remember it not being enough, my strong accent made it clear that I did not belong, for most of the students who have never left the neighborhood or the city, my foreignness made it appear that I was privileged. The idea that black people are lower class was always embedded into their subconscience. Over the years, I grew accustomed conforming-looking black but not being black enough. I watched white moms in the neighborhood hold their bag and kids closer to their body as my brother and I walked to school.
I used to pull ranks in defense to the”you sound white”comment with one of my own, “I am African, I am as black as it gets.” I got caught up in trying to prove to people that I am black, along the lines I started to have an identity crisis. I started to conform to what I thought a black girl looks and acts like.
You see to whites (and I am perfectly aware that all whites are not racist), the color of my skin defines my blackness and to blacks, being down with the stererotypical black culture defines my place.
I suppose the question is, what and who defines blackness?
Is being black defined by the brown skin that covers our bones like a latex glove? Is it our afrocentric hair or extra slurred words that leave our mouth labeled not “proper” English, whatever that means.
As for who defines my blackness, I asked my fellow black sister about what does being black mean to her, she said,
Being black is putting up with bullshit like black is ugly, evil, dirty and coming up at the top. Being black is fighting for your rights because some asshole has got it in their head that white is better, superior, prettier and everyday is a fight against the stares directed at your head. It is about despite the negativity that is plastered on our backs, we go on with our lives because we believe in our hearts that the color of our skin doesn’t not have the power to keep us slaved to the cultural construct of racism.
I am not black because my African roots lay closer to the equator than my adopted white mom or because my melanin filled skin has seen more sun than my white best friend. No, I am black because I have never known myself to be anything different. In Ethiopia where people looked like me, I was bounded to my people with not the color of my skin but my country. Furthermore, I am black because I understand this country’s history of black enslavement and although my people were not enslaved, in this country it doesn’t matter where you come from, being brown means you too feel the after effect of that history.
As for the racism within the black community, each person defines who they are. There is no right way of being black. I suppose my response to the people who had me doubt my blackness and made me feel like I don’t belong anyware should have been the comedian Bernie Mac’s saying, “I have been black a long time”or perhaps I was born black.
Peace, Love & Black Beans