“Do you ever feel like it’s hard being you?”
“Oh, it’s too Black!” “You don’t act Black!” These are a couple of the phrases I’ve heard in my life regarding to my ethnicity. Trying to stay true to yourself is difficult when you are an African American. Because to the White men and women, you’re too Black. And as it pertains to Black people you’re not Black enough. I have had to deal with this tug of war since childhood, and now adulthood. When you’re working in a place of employment, chances are it’s around mostly White, you walk this fine line. You’re usually putting on this face that is nowhere near who you really are outside of work. Then there are the Black people who don’t seem like they quite fit into their own group. Usually demonstrating unfamiliar understandings of certain cultural references because of interest that are different than the group.
For me, I am big on culture; not just African American culture, but any other culture as well. Growing up in my mother’s house, she not only encouraged us, but forced us into environments where people were different than yourself. She knew something we didn’t, and that is if you want to be able to succeed in this society, you need to be able to communicate with different groups of people. It didn’t matter if we were spending the day at the library, or the schools where we received our educations. Diversity was encouraged, which was something that I didn’t see in my immediate environment. A lot of the kids hung around those that look like them, talked like them, dressed like them, even ate the foods they ate. Unlike them, in our household you were encouraged to try new music, food, and clothes.
Now you ask, what does any of this have to do with being Black. Well, a lot because like I said before, there is this tug of war. You’re caught in between two worlds. The world of my immediate surroundings, such as my community which is Black. And then there is the daily workplace which consists of predominantly White. So, with me, I have a pride in Black culture, but that pride tends to come at a cost of making a White constituency uncomfortable. Yet on the other hand, I enjoy the pleasures of taking part in activities or subscribing to certain forms of thinking that do not align with the Black community or certain agendas within it. For instance, I love 90’s hip hop and 80’s rock and roll. What an interesting combination of Death Row Records, No Limit, and Bad Boy, with a touch of Aerosmith, Motle Crue, and ACDC.
But being me is more than just the food I eat and music I listen to through my iPod. It’s not something I am aspiring to be, nor is something that I’m trying to play a role within. Being Black is a shared experience. It’s a feeling, the way you think and breathe. It’s walking up the street, coming in contact with a troublesome situation and giving the head nod to one another. An action that has long been associated with hip and cool, yet is a sign that we understand the situation and I’m looking out like you looking out. Being Black is finishing quotes like, “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” “It’s knowing what is really meant by wading in the water and lift every voice.” It’s knowing why Black women really love the utility of wearing their hair in braids or dreads and the first thought that crosses your mind as a Black man as you come in contact with the police.
You see, in the end, when someone ask me about acting Black, I shake my head. Why? Because you can’t act Black. Ever act Chinese or how about acting Russian. Ever been told stop acting Native American. Usually when told you’re acting Black there is a negative connotation which is more of a back-handed, under-handed, and over-handed smack to the face. I don’t aspire to be, I just am. It’s not an article of clothing nor is it a particular genre of music. It’s not eating certain food or conversing with a certain vernacular. It’s Educated, check; respectable, check; law abiding, check; driven, check; ambitious, check; and most imitated, double check. I never, nor have I ever felt I needed to rise to any level of Blackness because I am Black and Black is I.