“You Don’t Seem … Black”: Having to Justify my Identity

As I am visibly Black , I have been told many times unprovoked that I act ghetto because I like R&B and like chicken (which I don’t know why liking chicken is a “Black” thing), or I’m an oreo because I can’t fluently speak Patois and like drinking lattes. I have to be either or which I have stated I’m not.

So growing up I had to struggle with that in and outside of my home. Outside of my house, I wasn’t Black enough. I didn’t eat a lot of Jamaican food (my mom cooked all my meals and she just couldn’t digest spicy food anymore, therefore none of the food she made was spicy). I listened more to alternative and pop music in middle school and it wasn’t until university that I started listening to more old school R&B and what the Grammy Academy deems “Urban Contemporary”music. Again most of my friends were from multiple backgrounds so I didn’t really feel a big impact to assimilate to any one culture but I definitely heard “you don’t seem Black” a lot.

When I was with people who were  “more Black” than me, I had to deal with essentially not being enough. I was “too white”. So my problem was being myself while still being what was defined as Black. What did it mean to be Black? I’m an only child in with both parents who are still married(together for 9 years before they married), who didn’t have me until they were married (they were 29). My dad went to college for a year and my mom finished to become a RN. I had good grades throughout most of my grade school life and was a part of school sports for as long as I could.

This also worked against me. My parents thought I was aiming too high. They didn’t think university was a good option for me because of diversity issues (among many other concerns). I never saw that as an issue though. Today I acknowledge the stress they were talking about but the career I wanted required I go to university. So that was it’s own barrier. Then finding and emulating other Black women in university. Finding even Black professors in my field of interest it own search.

So then the latter issue was being “too Black”. Like I mentioned in my previous post, somehow my being was too much and I had to tone down. So not being too loud, changing my appearance to blend in and not drawing too much attention to myself. I couldn’t bring food I liked because it was “too ethnic” (how I wanted chicken fried rice) or making sure my hair wasn’t too frizzy otherwise people would feel the need to touch my hair (like I’m a walking petting zoo). I apparently was talking with my hands too much at work and I apparently had an accent when I spoke. (I don’t an accent). Dealing with work colleagues saying I was ‘sassy’ and  school colleagues correcting me on statistics on “what actually happens in the Black community” because they took one course in African-American studies.

I think the root of this discomfort lies just in self confidence. I know that I am Black. I know that I like R&B and Pop music. I like lattes and Oxtail. I can be both “too Black” and not “Black enough’ because that is just who I am. I don’t have to be just one thing. Being Black isn’t defined one way. And I wish I realized that sooner. Other people don’t get to invalidate someone else’s identity, remember that.

 

Below is an absolutely amazing performance of “The Average Black Girl” By Ernestine Johnson

 

(image from https://atlanta-weave.myshopify.com/)

 

Have you ever felt stuck to be one thing? Comment below on your own stories.

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