My life has been one constant question.
I’m sure that’s no different than anyone else. I mean we all have questions that could follow us for the duration of our lives. However, this particular question looks at multiple facets of my character. It’s been asked over and over. It’s been posed in various situations and implied in others. I get probed by people in the simplest of scenarios, and assumptions run amok. Sometimes, people don’t even know they are asking me. If I based my self-confidence on the thoughts of people, then I wouldn’t truly know myself. Why? Because their inferences about me conflict each other. Thus, we are back at square one of the same inquiry.
Am I black enough?
My manner of speech. The way I dress. My favorite foods. The music I enjoy. How I carry myself. The way I walk. Where I’m from. The church I attend. The way I praise God. My blackness is called into question about all of these things (and more). This investigation happens on almost a daily basis. Society has its definition (stereotype) of being black. It’s not only the color of your skin. If you’re thinking “That’s ridiculous!!”, then I would be inclined to agree to a point. However, that’s life and I’ve lived these situations on several levels.
Case and point.
For those who have followed A Fresh Voice, it is a well-known fact that I am from North Dakota. Where I am from has an influence on my speech like the majority of the world. While I don’t have the super North Dakotan accent (Thank God!!), one can hear the northern come out from time to time. Imagine my surprise when one of my fellow North Dakotans tells me, “You sound like you’re from the south.” This has happened on more than one occasion. It’s especially painful when a cute girl makes this statement. I automatically write them off. Why? That statement is an assumption on my blackness.
I hear you talking. “How can you make that deduction? It’s your own biases.”
Well, if you think that, then fine. However, I know for a fact most North Dakota natives do not picture an African-American when they think of “native North Dakotans.” I know from experience because I am continually asked, “Is your family in the Air Force?” This gives the automatic assumption that I am not from ND. Thus, I have to be from the south because (insert half logical reason). My pseudo-southern sound and pseudo-military upbringing go hand-in-hand. I find it amazing that a guy who has never spent more than a month in Texas sounds like he’s from the south. Also known as “you sound like a black guy.” This is how some white people around here approach me.
Let’s look at the flipside.
When I do go to Texas, I’ll get called out in a minute. Why? Well, 1) I don’t sound like I’m from there, and 2) I speak proper English. Yes, I do use slang, but I don’t have the stereotypical Texan drawl when I use it. I used to disguise my voice (try to) so people couldn’t tell I’m not from there. People have (and still are) quick to clown me for my method of speech. Within a portion of the black community, it is frowned upon to speak proper English. It is seen as a departure from your roots. Ridiculous, I know. However, the black “sound” goes deeper than skin color. It was mandatory that slaves abandon their original dialect forcing them to learn English. This English was very broken at best due to slave owners not teaching it. A slave will be a slave if you keep them uneducated. Thus, broken English became a prevalent way of communication. This sound, dialect, or speech has been passed down for generations. Eventually, it became a bond for African-Americans. We were taught to take pride in ourselves. As education became available, a rift started to occur. While it was a crime punishable by death for a slave to read or write (literally), we see the opposite happening today. Speaking proper English will get you labeled (by some) as an Uncle Tom.
Also known as “you sound like a white dude.”
People deduct all of that from a person’s dialect. Interesting, huh? I’d say so. While I have learned to look past this, it used to define me. Truthfully, it was a struggle. Not only with speech but in other areas of life (some of which are mentioned above). How can I be around white people and be seen as “a typical black guy“, but be around black people and be told ,”you’re not black enough“? From all of these instances, I have to pose a question.
What is being black?
I’ll answer it for you.
It is the color of my skin. My badge of honor. My heritage. My culture. Let’s get one thing straight, though. Culture is diverse across the country. Thus, adhering to all aspects of “black culture” as a definition of blackness would be impossible because that sub-culture is so detailed. The definition of being black cannot be viewed in one scope. That’s narrow-minded. People, in general, are multi-faceted, complex beings. How much more does this apply when adding race to the equation?
The question has been posed. We’ve had a lengthy discussion. So, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to let you define me. I know who I am, and I’m confident in that.
Am I black enough?