“Blackness”

I like country music, classical rock, heavy metal, as well as classical music. I used to like rap, but it sucks as of late. I wish MC Ren and NWA were still keeping it real.

I drink fine wines, dine at nice restaurants, and read the Smithsonian.

I communicate well, worked hard in school, and prefer conversations that center around ideas, politics, and theory.

I do not play basketball. But, I am a competitive distance runner and a decent tennis player.

I sport a blazer and a bow tie. But I also wear earrings (yes on both ears).

So, why am I bringing this matter up? A couple of weeks ago, while on a training run in one of Houston’s public parks, a young black man (14 or 15 years old) asked me if I liked white women? I do not know him and he does not know me. Keep in mind that I was stretching and getting ready for a very tough run. I ignored him until I heard him telling the two young black sisters what he asked me. After hearing that, I elected to lecture the brother on the history of Jim Crow and the meaning of being BLACK. I also enlightened him on the fact that I love ALL people.  I asked him: do you like white women? He stated no. I asked why? He told me that white women are too proper. As one can imagine, I was really confused. I turned to him and asked, so what do you like? He stated that he likes girls who are ghetto. My response was one of frustration. I told him that he had just disrespected every black sister I know. That includes my mother. His mother. And the two young black women beside him.

I turned to both of the black women (14 – 16 years old) and stated that your friend does not see you two as being very sophisticated. They both agreed. We went on to chat about race and culture for a bit. Then I realized I needed to run. But this topic brings up a number of troubling  matters. And, not just for the young black brother. I am always amazed at how whites assume blacks should behave. I go crazy every time I hear a white person tell me that they are “more” black than I am. What does that mean? (fill in the blank) Black people are still fighting Jim Crow; however, Jim Crow changed his name to Uncle Tom. There are experiences that blacks feel daily that a white person cannot comprehend. Here are a few examples: Being followed in a department store. Having people move to the other side of the room when you walk into the room. Locking car doors as you approach. Or, reaching for one’s purse. My favorite is when the police (po po) pull you over to ask a stupid question. On a recent trip, I exited the rest room on a plane to the dismay of one white woman. She elected to return to her seat. I heard her husband ask why? She quickly rolled her eyes at me to capture her husband’s attention. Now, I might be reading too much into this, but I suspect I am not.

With the advent of de-segragation, a number of blacks integrated with whites. Hence, the notion of cultural conformity transpired. Well, to some extent. Unfortunately, there seems to be a perception of what black is. And, if one does not adhere to that basic notion, folks start questioning one’s blackness.

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5 thoughts on ““Blackness”

  1. I can assure you you weren’t overreacting. I hear coworkers say things like, “I’m just old fashioned, but I don’t think blacks and whites should marry.” all the time. I work in north Louisiana and I didn’t really realize people were actually this racist. My parents just hid that from me, I suppose. I heard a woman in Wal-Mart chastise the cashier in charge of the self-check-outs. She told the cashier that “There’s no way you could no how to use this better than me. You’re black.” I’m ashamed that I didn’t have a retort for the other customer at the store. I was simply struck speechless, and I think you’ll remember how seldom that happens.

    I think it’s insane. People are simply people. Or, rather, people should simply be people. Having some culture is great, but white folks expecting black people to act black doesn’t only look racist, it looks and sounds stupid. I don’t even know exactly how to act white. I know how to act stupid though, and I try to avoid that. I would like to think that others do too. Unfortunately I get proved wrong about that so often.

  2. Kristi:

    I love the old fashion argument. I too have heard it on a number of occasions. It is similar to the whole notion that one’s parents are not racist, they just believe in the separation of races.

    I live in one of the most diverse cities in the country, yet a person can spend their entire day not interacting with those who are of a different faith, race, or ethnicity. That is crazy to me. But that is the bubble we have created in society. We attend schools, live in neighborhoods, and go to church with people who will reinforce our own values.

  3. This has been a frequent conversation amongst my fraternity brothers on Baylors campus. And to be honest, we feel as if the fear of loosing ones “blackness” holds some black children back. This is ironic you post this today because me and my mother had this conversation today comparing me and my brother. Both brought up in the same home, family, and even school but he has adopted the white culture more so than I did. Relatively to each other some would say he is less “black” than I am. My mother and I came to the conclusion that is his make up as a person, not his environment. So in conclusion, I do not believe ones “blackness” comes from being a product of their environment but more so the morals and ideas they hold close to their heart and value. That’s just my two cents.

  4. My son, who is white, learned this lesson when I dropped him and his two best friends off at a baseball card/memorabilia store in Wheaton, MD while I shopped in the store next door. The three boys came to find me just a few minutes later, saying that they had been kicked out of the store because of a longstanding policy that no young kids were allowed in the store without their parents. Well, my son had been in that store almost every week for the past couple of years with no problem– but this time he was with his two friends, who were black. Needless to say, I marched the boys back into the store and informed the manager how unhappy I was at the selective enforcement of store policy– and that we would never be shopping there again. Several other prospective customers walked out with us. That was 20 years ago, and none of those boys (who are all grown men now) have never forgotten it.

  5. Ah, perception of race has to be one of the most faulty forms of inductive reasoning. That is, if one can even call it reasoning. It breaks my heart to see expectations based on race. Yes, race unites a group of people together, but these modern expectations people seem to have is simply non sequitur.

    That reminds me of a passage I read in one of the books I had for your class, though the title eludes me. It basically said that this expectation of “blackness” began when slave-owners treated their slaves as non-intellectual, unintelligent, working machines. Your encounter with that young man seems to illustrate how racist expectations of slave-owners has transcended time, and has transformed itself into an expectation from the very people whose ancestors were once enslaved. It’s cruelly ironic.

    Your post also makes me think of my good friend, Jordan. He’s black, but he’s also adopted, much like myself. His parents are white, and he’s told me that he never fit in among other black people. Reading this, I can’t help but wonder why (read: sarcasm). Honestly, we’re all just people, and ethnicity should not play as big as a role socially as it does in my opinion. We live, we love, we laugh, we cry and eventually, we die. That’s the bond we share as humans, and that’s the way I believe we should relate to one another, as people with lives that can end in a heartbeat.

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