A Perspective On Blackness and Identity

In the realness of February and celebrating and honoring Black history month, I was thinking about what I could do. Top 10 Sassiest Black Fierce Women (number one being Beyonce of course, maybe some Oprah love)? Possibly. When I had ample time to sit down and think about what I could possibly add to the conversation I realized I know nothing about being Black. I did, however, know A LOT about weaves, and hair thanks to my former roommate and good friend, Alison (not because she has a lot of weaves and obsesses over her hair – just because she knows a lot about weaves and hair and I would always ask her questions). One night Alison and I were at trivia night. The guy next to her was looking for his pen that he had lost and asked Alison if she knew where his pen was, under her breath she said, “why because I’m black?”. I laughed. Her sassiness and frankness was exactly the perspective I wanted. So I figured why not have Alison write a bit about what Blackness is all about and her experience of being Black is.

On Being Black and Not Enough

By Alison Underwood

Every single picture Alison and I have taken together looks maniacal... so here's just Alison.
Every single picture Alison and I have taken together looks maniacal… so here’s just Alison.

So it’s only appropriate to talk about Blackness and being Black since its February right? But what exactly does it mean to be black? The truth is I have no idea. Despite popular opinion, I am indeed a black girl.

One of my earliest memories about race and being black (or not enough) was when I was at sleep away summer camp. A large and probably soon to be obese black girl who was considered a “nice” bully (whatever that means) made fun of me for “not being black enough.” Her word of choice was to call me “Casper”—first of all, I was highly offended because that was quite possibly the worst diss I had yet to hear in my 9 years of living. It did not even make sense—was I ghost? Was I invisible? No. The bitch was basically calling me white.

It seems like my entire life and still to this day I am being labeled as a white girl. When someone asked me what borough I lived in and I told them Manhattan, they gave me a look like “Oh, you’re one of them?” Oh I am sorry, does being black mean you have to live in a more African-American populated area? My mom is from Brownsville, Brooklyn (which back in the day was like, scary as fuck) and my dad grew up in projects in the Bronx—is that black enough for you?

I’ve heard so many times from my few black friends that I hang out with too many white people. I grew up in the East Village and went to schools in Manhattan that had dense Asian and White percentages—what do you expect? Being black should not be defined by the amount of black people you know. Oh, and I am always getting that I sound like a white girl–Sorry, but these are the sounds my larynx produces.

Its also not about stereotypes—I must say I do get kind of annoyed when someone asks me if I know how to twerk. I also don’t really like rap or hip-hop music. I always go the race card and say “why, because I am black?” And although I am only kidding, really though. Like believe it or not, black skin does not give you the skills and ability to twerk; go on YouTube if you want to learn that shit. It’s not about stereotypes—yes I love watermelon and it’s my favorite fruit, but I rarely eat fried chicken and my mom never allowed me to drink Kool-Aid. Don’t judge me because my hair is straight, and there is so such thing as good or bad hair.

Being black is an experience and a feeling that you can choose to define. Whether it’s by your hair, your love for black music or culture. Embrace the skin you were born in and stop judging people. I am black enough for myself so stop hating—cue Beyoncé—I woke up like dissss. #Flawless

____________________________________________________

I cannot think of a better person to have asked to write about being Black, really. A lot of times we like to categorize races, religions and cultures all as one homogenous group. It’s beyond stereotypes because its deeply ingrained in us. Often times I am deeply insulted when people say I’m “not Asian enough”, or that I “don’t count because I’m whitewashed”. Typically I laugh it off, but what really happens is that a huge part of my identity is being discredited. Just because I did not grow up in an Asian-American community, or speak the language, doesn’t mean I don’t identify with the customs or the culture.

This doesn’t only apply to being Black or Asian. I often hear stories from friends in which they were told they aren’t “_____ enough”, be it gay, feminist, liberal, Mexican, what have you. Because I identify as a feminist does not mean I don’t shave, or am a lesbian, or hate men. Having a particular identity does not prescribe a list of ways you should act, say or do. It shouldn’t at least, and we need to stop thinking it does.

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