Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When being black is not enough to be black

[This is written in celebration of all bi-racial children and like-skinned black people who are told they aren't black enough. This is in celebration for all the people who were told they act white and talk white. ]

How much black is too much?

How much black is not enough?

These are the type of questions that validate the truth of white privilege. White people don’t have to think about being too white, or not being white enough. White is simply white, and there’s not much to add to, or nullify whiteness.

Being black is different. 

Maneuvering between those fine lines can be complicated for black folks in pursuit of excellence; while maintaining street credibility. 

Being labeled not black enough brings a level of shame that is challenging to overcome. There are lines a person should never cross. Like a black man dating a white woman, a black person claiming allegiance to the Republican Party or worshiping on Sunday with a predominately white congregation.

Being too black brings another set of concerns – like being too black to get a real job. Or, another among the list of stereotypes that causes white women to call the police when a black person goes to a pool, attends a barbeque or gets caught for walking, talking and being black. In these cases, being too black is a function of simply being black.

That is all true, but this is about the outlandish pressure placed on black people to prove they have enough blackness to qualify as an acceptable black person. This is about what black people tend to do to each other to eradicate the abundance of “Uncle Tom’s” and “Aunt Sally’s” positioned to pull those crabs back to the bottom of the barrel.

Everywhere you look, black people are there to remind boys and girls about proper dress, proper communication and to punish deviate behavior. As my grandparents would say, how to act proper while in the presence of white people. Those chastisements often left me wondering if being black meant being more like white people.

Overcoming being too black comes with the high cost of not being black enough.

“If you’re black and middle-class…every day you’re [going to get] a lot of crap. You’re going to get angry,” wrote Ellis Cose in “The Rage of the Privileged Class.

The anger comes from the space in the middle – being black in hope of overcoming the obstacles created to hinder black people, juxtaposed against the pain associated with overly rejecting blackness.

This is not a new burden. Frantz Fanon wrote about it in his book “Black Skin, White Mask”. This classic, written in 1952, examines the psychological burden of being black.

“[Educated blacks] Society refuses to consider them genuine Negroes. The Negro is a savage, whereas the student is civilized. "You're us," and if anyone thinks you are a Negro he is mistaken, because you merely look like one.” 

Placed within contemporary context, we uncover multiple layers of labeling related to what it means to be too black or not black enough.

From a black Christian not being black enough due to the embrace of the slave master’s Jesus, to those boys wearing baggy pants never amounting to much due to their inability to adapt to the norms of society – finding a place in the middle is a lifelong quest for success in the face of the need of inclusion.

These are the type of discussion normally held in the context of defining cultural variables. For black people, it’s more about defining what it means to be black. Being too black can potentially influence the path a person takes, and not being black enough has bearing on how a person operates as a representative of blackness among other black people.

A person can’t hide being black. It follows you wherever you go, and it is used in constructing an evaluation of character. Is she too black to fit, or is he not black enough?

The pride that comes with being black should not come with so many restrictions. The hope and prayer of being true to yourself is often entangled in the perceptions of others – both black and white. Freedom comes in owning what it means to imagine new definitions of blackness.

For some, that a place in the middle.

For me, it’s a place with unlimited possibilities.

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