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I Am What I Am

Because people seem to hate generalizations, let me preface by saying while I'm sure many can relate to what I have to say, I do not speak for all Black people :)

Back in college, I learned from my friend that a non-Black classmate was trying to find me in the machine shop and described me to my friend as "short, short hair, tan skin." Keep in mind, I was one of three Black girls in my major, one of whom he was questioning; it would have been very easy to narrow me down that way. I had a similar situation just last year when a White man felt the need to assure me that his daughter didn't mean it offensively when she called me "that Black girl."

I find it funny when non-Black people dance around mentioning my race. In a way, I understand, especially nowadays with the rise of social media and the amount of racially-charged conversations being had, it's imperative everyone be politically-correct or risk being #cancelled. But isn't "Black" used often enough these days for others to realize it's not offensive? Heck, there are still White people who are confused as to why they should never use the N-word (????????) But honestly, I cringe when someone calls me African-American. It feels forced and unnatural, as I know actual African people and have very little relationship with my African heritage (and am hesitant to share my DNA to find out); my connection to my Caribbean heritage has always been stronger. But I can't help but to feel like someone's hesitance to call me Black means that I should find some sort of shame in describing myself in that way.

Is Black as simple as just skin color? While some fairer-skinned Latinx proudly assert they are Black, others darker than me reject the very idea. Similarly, there are many Indians with darker skin than mine but I'm pretty sure no one ever refers to them as Black (In America...I am aware of the deeply-rooted colorism in Asian countries and perhaps there are words for it there). So when is Black more than just a color? Why do some Black people get offended when White people try to "act Black" while at the same time asserting that there is no such thing as "acting Black" because that mindset feeds into harmful stereotypes? I can't answer all these questions, but these are my two cents!

These days, more than ever, I'm reminded on a daily basis that I am Black - if not by being the only Black person in the (virtual) room at work, or by the haircare products I need being locked behind glass at Walmart (which is finally ending BTW), then by the constant social media/news feeds either celebrating the Black experience or urging the public to take action towards ending systemic racism.

For me, being Black in America is constant awareness that the default of the world around me is not Black - it's adding "black woman" to my Google searches for hair products, nude stockings, and even the GIFs that I have dispersed throughout my posts! It's going to the supermarket and looking for the aisle dedicated to “ethnic food” because God forbid they put the Goya beans with the rest of the beans!

Being Black is feeling a little more relaxed seeing another Black person in the room because I'm no longer the outsider or the single representative for all Black people. But also being on guard because anything one of us does reflects on the other. It's researching the places I want to travel to ensure they're at least tolerant of Black people.

Being Black is loving and hating my hair at the same time - the versatility, the maintenance, the way it defies gravity. It's questioning whether to show up natural, and if so, making sure I prepare in advance because wash-and-go's are a NO for my 4C hair!

True story, bro.

Box braids, Senegalese twists, and other protective styles aren't just hairstyles that just anyone can rock because they think it's cute; they protect my fragile hair from the elements and give me a break from the time and maintenance otherwise required.

Being Black is wondering how other people perceive me – how can I show them I'm not who they think I am? That I'm not going to shoplift some $5 glue-on lashes from the hair store or that my income/credit absolutely qualify me for this apartment I've come to view? Does my silliness peg me as one of the Black characters here for comedic relief with nothing deeper to contribute? When I'm pensive or display my confusion, am I the anti-social, intimidating, angry Black woman? When I fall behind on something at work, will people attribute it to my "inherent laziness?" And I like fried chicken and watermelon, but don't other people too? I ask one of these or similar questions daily. I'm constantly concerned about not contributing to a stereotype instead of just being me.

For me, being Black is not just appearance and is definitely not an act, it's an experience - having the shared blessings and misfortunes that only come with being Black. Laughing at the memes and comedy specials that make light of our struggles and remind me that I do belong. But it's not all I am, and to automatically assume any stereotype about a group, good or bad, can be harmful to embracing one's true identity. A feeling of inadequacy or alienation can stem from the expectations of others from both inside and outside of your stereotyped community. Yes, I am fit, but I'm not good at organized sports. I prefer my home cooking to be lightly-seasoned, but I expect my Caribbean/Southern food to be full of flavor and a potential heart attack. If my musical tastes had a vocal range, they would be Mariah Carey. And I'm pretty sure I can't dance (definitely can't twerk), but I guess that depends on who you ask and how much I've had to drink!

Care to add a few more cents to the jar? How do you prefer to be identified? How have stereotypes contributed to your existence? Comment below!

*Unfortunately, it seems there are issues with my comments feature here. If it doesn't post, feel free to comment on this post on my Instagram page. I truly look forward to hearing your thoughts! *

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