Confession Part 3: Black in my shoes
“You are the whitest black person I’ve ever met” or “I’m more black than you are”
Invariably either one or both of these comments are made in almost every environment I end up in. Usually by (but not limited to) my Caucasian associates who feel comfortable enough with me to inform me on what they think about the way I choose to act on a daily basis. I’ve heard it in church; work, from fellow pastors, classmates, even those that I thought that their knowledge of me was extensive enough not to make such an ignorant statement. So here is my question to those statements: What is Black?
So what is being black enough? Is it based upon complexion? Is it a question of heredity and genealogy, or culture and experience? My children may be mistaken for being Hispanic, Hawaiian, biracial (which they are), and will be told that they looked like an Middle Eastern, so I suspect that one’s physical characteristics alone do not make someone black enough. Moreover, in many respects, it makes me realize how ethnic classifications based on colors are misguided anyway. Black America, in particular, not only consists of people with many variants of complexions, black culture consists of people whose racial heritage is a product and blend of the realities of sexual impropriety.
Honestly, I’ve become comfortable enough in my skin to say that I am sick and tired of these (and many more) examples being the standard for what the definition of being Black is. So, again, what is “black enough?” My skin is brown, and this makes me subject to the same racism that any other person in America has faced. There are areas where I can’t walk without being stopped by the police. Likewise, what is “acting white?” There is not a manual that says all black people are supposed to have the same tastes when it comes to clothes, food, music, or anything else. Am I not black because I can appreciate Vivaldi or Mozart as well as James Brown or Public Enemy? Does my respect for education, learning and knowledge mean that I am “acting white?” Notwithstanding my personal likes and dislikes, I am still black! Though I can appreciate things about American culture that appear to be characteristically white, I also appreciate my black culture, history and heritage. All in all, “blackness” is undoubtedly in the mind of the beholder. The next time that you are questioning whether or not someone is “black enough,” consider that they may be asking the same about you.
This is purely hypothetical, but perhaps Malcolm X asked whether Martin Luther King was “black enough” when King was preaching nonviolence. Maybe W.E.B. Dubois questioned the “blackness” of Booker T. Washington when Washington gave his address at the Atlanta Exposition. Though these men may have had philosophical differences on how to empower blacks, one thing that they all had in common was appreciation for their heritage, the desire to take part in the ongoing struggle for freedom, respect for hard work and education, and a strong desire to unify and edify the black community’s social and economic status in an unequal America. Their lives epitomize the fact that individuals can succeed at using different methods to help blacks in their struggle for equality, and this truth really makes the question of whether or not someone is “black enough” meaningless.
Ultimately, what defines me is not the color of my skin, or the content of character but the God I serve. But we will tackle this in the next part of my confession. Tell me what you think below