I don’t remember it happening all at one time. There was no grand flash of awareness or great revelation of reality like those we’ve gotten used to scripting in this day and time of instant everything.
If I stop to think there are certainly some sign posts throughout my living experiences that now seem obvious. The day that I made up my mind to stop putting chemical relaxers in my hair. The day I turned down other schools in favor of attending Tougaloo College. The day I watched the first African American get elected to the office of President of the United States.
I am black-ish.
I am proud of who I am.
So much of the history of my family and “black” people has been lost and narrated in such a way as to shame those seeking knowledge rather empower them to find the answers they need. I was raised in a family that did its level best to stir in us a hunger for knowledge and the compassion that stems from the life and teaching of Christ.
And yet, many of the decisions that shaped my life have molded me into something a little tricky to define.
I am not “black” at least not in the ways that people like to banty about the label. I was born into a “black” family which by society means that one or both of my parents are persons of African descent. My traditions and culture as a young child are typically throw into the “black” bucket.
Along with that race and cultural assignment there are certain behaviors and aspirations that are placed on me by society. This is where it gets tricky.
If I pursue an education and develop my mind to its fullest in some communities that is viewed as my “acting white” with “whiteness” being synonymous with success. So the decision to attend an Historically Black College was a cause for concern for some in my life because many people of influence view HBCUs as less rigorous than other schools.
If I pursue a career in business the “uniform of success” is clothed in a style that says my face, my hair, my skin, my hips do not project success.
If I see someone “black” aspire to high office or position I am conditioned to doubt that they will get a fair shot because the world views them as black and somehow that MUST mean they are lacking qualifications, right? Note that this is BEFORE credentials are usually reviewed on paper.
Yet, I was raised to be a solider, an advance woman, a sort of “race astronaut”. I am not alone. Many of the children of those who survived the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-60s were left to prove the point our predecessors made. That if blacks were given equal access and opportunity that we could be successful contributees to American society as a whole. We attended the majority white schools in the atmospheres of fear, confusion, ignorance, angry, distrust, shame and curiosity. The tv cameras were gone so we were on our own in our various pockets of the country.
We had no King to lead us.
One thing that our predecessors could not have anticipated was how our placement into these arenas would change is culturally. We ceased to be black and became black-ish.
I enjoy a good many things that are considered to be exclusive to “white” culture. Ballet, opera, theatre, etc. How those activities became the exclusive preview of one “culture” by the way is another topic I’d LOVE to get into in a later post.
I don’t enjoy a lot of things that are considered to be “black” culture. It’s the source of a good many jokes with black friends and acquaintances when they want to “revoke my black card”.
American society requires the sacrifice of culture that does not fit the mainstream as the price of “acceptance”. That’s not just with blacks. We are just one of the highly visible groups.
What makes this all extraordinarily bizarre is that ALL of this operates as a made up, social construct that we just abide by and accept on a daily basis.
I look to the generation coming behind me which has blurred the lines even more between all of these social constructs and I know that for every uncomfortable moment, for every hurt I have and will endure across the rest of my life, I HAVE and CONTINUE to advance the cause of showing that far more binds us than divides us as a human race. It has taken me quite some time to learn how to forgive myself and stop apologizing for not being black enough or white enough depending on which room I was standing in. I am black-ish and there is a much needed place in this world for me and those like me to bridge the divide between cultures.
~Marta C. Youngblood