Black in America

I have kept my mouth shut on a lot of issues pertaining to black people, who are in turn my people. There’s been a plethora of these issues that have risen to the surface over the past few years. Some of it has been heinous – innocent black women, men, and children have been slain in their homes, cars, and public streets, and in the wakes of their deaths the media has smeared the reputations of these people to paint a landscape that we blacks are the enemy, the nuisance, and we deserve whatever mistreatment we receive.

Why have I been so quiet? Because it’s pretty hard to speak up about any of this without being brutally criticized, bastardized, othered, or shut down. This is doubly true if you dare to speak on black issues and you are black. Many white folks figure that if they don’t see the racism, it doesn’t exist – “Why can’t you just get over it/let it go?” is what I often hear from folks who claim to have compassion for all people, but can’t seem to be compassionate when the mistreatment of a group of people with darker skin is brought to light. Meanwhile, in the black community, many are so busy trying to tally you up on a mental scorecard to determine your level of blackness that they get distracted by trivial, ancillary details instead of listening to your message. If you’re married to someone who is not black, as I am, then you’re a traitor, a bedwench, a poisonous snake, and “you ain’t down.” If you are a black male, you are constantly under criticism from black females as not doing enough, not stepping up, not having their/our backs. And then there’s some of us who are very misled, who act in obnoxious ways because it’s what’s been shown to us on television, and this often draws the wrong kind of attention, and these show boaters aren’t even really sure what it is they’re fighting for or why, thus contributing to the uphill plight we – blacks everywhere – are fighting to just find justice, be treated fairly, and be taken seriously.

Catching heat from other blacks is nothing new to me; I grew up middle class, I got good grades, and I wasn’t into rap/hip hop culture much. Growing up, I listened to Pac and Biggie, but I also listened to Depeche Mode and No Doubt. I could dance and sing, but I also participated in poetry slams and speech and debate events. I wasn’t, am not, and probably never will be hood. I can speak two sentences and most people catch that. I have not ever been black enough to most blacks, I’m often a token to whites, and none of it is ever good enough.

It’s okay. I’ve stopped being sad or angry about these things.

I’m not even mad at anybody…

I used to be. I used to feel hatred for myself for being the way that I am. I used to reflect on my childhood with resentment because of how my parents raised me. I used to distance myself from other blacks because I saw them as the problem. I used to hate white people because I thought it was all their fault.

But not anymore. If there are any other blacks out there reading this who have experienced similar emotions, please know that it really is okay, and you are fine. If you have conflicting feelings about your identity, understand that there isn’t anything wrong with you. It’s not necessarily the fault of our people, either, because most blacks have been led astray by consuming messages that were meant to tear the black community apart. Images of what we are supposed to be are splashed all over the media, and these images are poor.  In the 1990s, it was talk shows like Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, etc. that portrayed black women as promiscuous, and black men as irresponsible. Music videos didn’t do many other favors in objectifying black women and making black men seem like thugs. In the new millennium, reality television shows have replaced talk shows as the express vehicle of poisonous delivery. At the same time, social media has roared in existence, just providing more ways for this negative imagery to become accessible. Trying to be an individual, be yourself, and figure out who you are amidst a sea of this propaganda is enough to take anyone in a variety of directions. It’s enough to make anyone question who they are. You are not to blame if you stumbled a few times while navigating through all of this. You cannot achieve any progress as long as you’re punishing yourself over mistakes you’ve made. We all make mistakes.

But here are some mistakes you shouldn’t make (and if you’ve made them before, strive not to make them again): Do not ever make apologies for your blackness. Do not let anyone tell you what your blackness has to be – YOU define that – not the establishment, not whites, not other blacks. Do not expect others who are non-black to understand – they can’t. If they’ve never faced injustice because of something about them that they were born with and cannot change (and I will hear no comments from LGBTQ folks, because regardless of the teary speeches you gave in pursuit of marriage equality, you are NOT like us) they have no capacity to identify with you, and that’s okay too. It doesn’t give anyone a pass, but it’s what you need to understand in order to not go crazy. Non-blacks can empathize, they can stand beside you in your fight, but they will not ever know what you face, so don’t expect them to understand.

I had to get clear on these items, too, before I could feel comfortable enough speaking from my place in society. Black people, my people, have been torn apart savagely, often at the hands of others who look like us but choose to act in ways that serve the interests of other groups. This is the reason a black man like Michael Vick – who not long ago was demonized, blackballed, and humiliated out of a job in the NFL for participation in a dog fighting operation – can state on Fox Sports that Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job in the NFL because of his afro, advising him to cut his hair off, and in essence, cut his blackness off. Why do I use Vick as an example? Because 1) most white people still want him dead for that dog fighting mess, but those same folks couldn’t care less about innocent black HUMANS being killed or abused, 2) Vick knows Kaepernick’s free agent status has nothing to do with his hair, but more to do with his political views, 3) once again we have black men in the media criticizing each other, even though the arena through which Vick is dissing Kap is the same one that dehumanized, emasculated, and shunned Vick years ago. This sets a precedent to white viewers that says it’s okay to attack these men, and that only perpetuates more of this vicious cycle I mentioned before.

As blacks, we say and do awful things to each other that make my stomach turn. We turn on each other, we call each other out for everything that’s wrong, and we can’t seem to unite as a race of people to look out for one another. Before anyone jumps to the comment section to speak out against black people uniting, please keep in mind that many other demographics do this beautifully: Asians stick up for other Asians, as was seen after that Asian man was bludgeoned on a United Airlines flight. He was in the wrong, ultimately, but his people had his back. Jewish people stick up for other Jews, Mexicans stick up for other Mexicans, and whites look out for other whites. Is this wrong? Hell no! Looking out for your own is a GOOD thing…but too often, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the black community. We can’t seem to defend Bill Cosby, a man whose contributions have paved the way for blacks in television and cinema. A man whose major lasting impression should be reshaping the image of the black household and family through the 1980s and 1990s. A man whose charitable contributions have benefitted black schools and colleges. A man WHO HAS STILL NOT BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF ANYTHING in a court of law in a case built on a blatant lack of evidence, propped up by faulty, shaky testimony, recounting events of over 30 years ago by opportunist people who can barely even remember what happened to them last week, and want to reset their clocks for 15 more minutes of fame at the expense of one man’s legacy. However, we certainly do love us some R. Kelly – a documented sexual predator who married a 15 year old girl by encouraging her to lie about her age on court documents, who was videotaped and positively identified as performing lewd sexual acts on a minor, and who is now denying that a cult of underage women stayed with him against their will. He’s our hero, and Cosby is a villain. It’s disgusting.

And with bass ackwardness such as this, is it any surprise our communities are in disarray? We fork over our money hand over fist for wigs, weaves, nails, gold chains, alcohol, and expensive cars, but often can’t keep the lights on at our low-income housing establishments, won’t demand better funding for the schools we send our children to, and won’t dare lend our dollars to help black entrepreneurs get off the ground. We hail the filth of women such as Amber Rose or Angela White (aka Blac Chyna) as heroes but pay no attention to the immoral standards these women perpetuate with their slut walks, side chick glorification, distasteful social media tirades, and trashy images. And if it’s not overconsumption of the trash that’s put in front of our faces that’s the problem, it’s infighting that is doing us in. Many of us are so quick to snatch away another person’s blackness because of who they date, where they work, how they speak, etc. and this is probably the angle I’m most tired of. At the end of the day, I can behave as “whitewashed” as black activists want to claim, but I promise you the cops don’t see me as white, the CEO on my job doesn’t see me as white, and even our 45th president doesn’t want to give me any passes. More importantly: I do not see myself as white. All that this criticism is successfully accomplishing is a disconnect within our community when we need more connection.

But all of this is stupid stuff. Get over it, Antoinette. Stop crying about race related issues when they don’t exist. You’re not black enough to speak on black issues, so just go back to your instructional designing and plucking the strings of your guitar. –Sincerely, America.