What is blackness? Is it the color of your skin? Is it more than that?
Growing up, I was often isolated from other African-Americans, and even at times other Africans within my community, even though I saw them regularly. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb, attended a predominantly white church, went to predominantly white schools, and was in class with predominantly white people. But the thing about having majority white friends is that you will never forget that you are black. Attention is always called to it, whether it’s when the history teacher mentions slavery in class and everyone turns to look at you, or when someone wants to feel your head because “black people hair is so different and cool”.
The thing I hated most was that there is an image that white people have of how black people are supposed to act, interests they’re supposed to have, and just a general way that they’re supposed to be. I never fit this image. I did things that black kids weren’t “supposed” to do. I didn’t listen to rap. I read comic books. I was a nerd. I got good grades in school. Because of all these things I earned myself a title: oreo. A “good” black person, not like those loud, “ratchet” black girls who you can hear from one end of the hall, or the black kids that fought in the cafeteria, or were always failing or in detention for one reason or another. It was supposed to be a compliment and I was supposed to be honored to be seen this way. Instead, I found myself asking a question of myself a lot:
Why am I black?
Maybe if I was white, I would fit in better, or more people would want to be friends with me, or that girl would actually be interested in me. I always felt like an outcast around white people, or that there was a certain way I had to act in order to fit in. But I also felt anger as if I was being forced into a box and label that I didn’t agree with, and betrayed because other black kids at my school also took part. I felt like a critical part of my identity had been stripped away from me without my choice.
This followed me all through high school. When I started college, I still struggled. I struggled in simultaneously wanting to find people who shared my skin color, but not sure if I would even fit in those spaces. Through my interactions with other black people I never felt like I belonged. I found myself discouraged and asking myself:
How can I be black?
I felt like I was still on the outside, still struggling to fit in. I had adapted so much to being around white people and surviving that it was harder to be around my own people, to interact more consistently with people who look like me. I was still struggling from the exclusion I felt in high school, and I didn’t want to go through that again, especially in a place where the population of black students is small compared to other races. I felt like I had to reinvent myself, covering for things I didn’t know that seemed to be integral parts of black culture, in terms of music, movies, and other pop culture things.
As for now, navigating these spaces is easier. I’m not ashamed of being who I am. I wish I could say that I never feel like I’m slightly outcast, but on some level, I always do. The thought that a part of my identity that I identify so strongly with could be completely erased is always on my mind. And when it crosses my mind, I catch myself asking:
Am I still black?