I was recently discussing with my best friend how I feel about “being black.” Actually, I don’t consider myself as “black” given my Irish, Jamaican and Indian heritage. It’s bothersome that we are summed up to be a color rather than a culture. What even hurts more is that there is racism not just between whites and blacks, but it is very prevalent within the black community. How you may ask? Well, there are some who distinguish between light-skinned and black-skinned blacks. And within that subclass I wouldn’t be black enough. What does it mean to be black? In recent sports news NFL football player Robert Griffin III was, according to commentator Rob Parker, accused of not being black enough due to his eloquent (for a black person) speech, his demeanor, and his choice in women. To say that a person, a person of a specific skin tone is less inclined to be “white” is ridiculous. I understand stereotypes. Considering that I’ve lived in the South for the past twenty-three years one can’t not understand stereotypes. Sure, sometimes they’re comical and sometimes they even seem to be true, but a stereotype does not define a race or a person. A few months before my tenth birthday, our family moved to Georgia. Having lived in Jamaica for most of the prior years, it was a culture shock when trying to acclimate myself with living stateside. My mother, concerned about my heavy-tongued patois, made it clear to me that I would have to speak proper English. For me it felt like I was also giving up a part of my Jamaican culture and heritage, but I know better now. Because I did not speak ebonics, couldn’t associate with southern black culture, and was “light-skinned” others of my own race often ridiculed me. But that was just it, I wasn’t like them – not because of any other reason than that my culture was not their own. In time the majority of my friends were white or of mixed descent. I found that for me and my environments that many of the stereotypes held true. However, I attribute that to socio-economic reasons and not because of the shade of my skin. The thing is, in order to succeed in world one must conform to certain expectations. My choice to speak proper English was because my parents were well aware of what was needed in creating the foundation of my success. As a result I was frequently in school plays, won oratory awards and ventured into broadcast media. I never felt like a sellout even as I was taunted by classmates who ridiculed me in my choice to date outside my race/color or have “other” friends. My skin color doesn’t define me. It never has. And so for the people who feel that because of my eloquent speech or my choice in friends or anything else they don’t deem “black,” get over yourself. I am a highly educated, cultured woman. Period. Yes, I love my Apple products, Starbucks, classical and country music. What I love even more is that I know who I am, where I came from and that the pigmentation of my skin doesn’t dictate the way I think, feel or anything else. What is “being black” you ask? Black is a color, not a culture, not a definition or a person. Because I may not act like any black person you may know doesn’t mean that I’m better than them, trying not to be like them or are embarrassed. This is me. I am more than comfortable in my warm mocha skin and my “ethnic” hairstyle. So if you need to call me anything, be sure to leave the color of my skin out of it because I’m exponentially more than that.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 2/27/13 issue of The Union-Recorder. Appeared in the paper as A look at Color Not Culture.