The Fight to Prove My Blackness
That’s what my eight-year-old African-American neighbor called me. It was 1991 and I was six years old. That is the first time I can recall having someone call me by another ethnicity to my face.
I had never stood up for myself before, but I felt such anger within as if fire consumed my core. Before I came to my senses, I spouted off a stream of words that must have gotten her attention.
Although she never bothered me again, her words left me scarred for years.
Her words echoed in my head.
She told me I thought I was better than everyone else.
Why would she think that?
Was it because I spoke proper English?
Was it the way I behaved?
It’s rather difficult for a six-year-old to comprehend the answers to any of these questions. It’s even more difficult when your family and friends echo that eight-year-old girl next door throughout the rest of your life.
Needless to say, over the years, Self-conscious and Shame became my middle names.
The light skin versus dark skin wars never helped much either. You know what I’m talking about. The whole “light skin is in” concept and the belief that light skinned Blacks had it easier because they were closer to being White than their darker skinned counterparts.
I was never Black enough. No matter what I did.
I didn’t have power like Aretha or Mahalia. I didn’t belt runs like Kelly Price. I didn’t have the stereotypical “Black girl booty” or hair. And I certainly couldn’t dance.
The fight to prove my identity seemed never-ending--until that one time in high school.
Not only did I find the courage to try out for the school’s step team (despite my rhythmically challenged reputation), but I actually made it.
I was finally wanted.
I was finally accepted--at least for that moment in time.
Do you know what that feels like? To be accepted as you are?
It’s never fun feeling like the kid picked last for kickball.
It’s also never fun feeling inadequate and as if you must fight to prove your Blackness. To earn your “Black Card” so to speak.
When someone new questions your right to claim your place in the Black community, you often find yourself searching for similarities--or stereotypes--you share with “the average Black person”. You find yourself taking pride in knowing how to play Spades, knowing how to use the latest colloquialisms correctly, keeping up with the latest entertainment news, and your near-perfect potato salad, collard greens, and macaroni recipes.
This fight to prove your Blackness becomes absurd--impossible even. Like expecting a camel to fit through the eye of a needle kind of impossible.
I may never fully earn my “Black Card” or be accepted, but the real question is: Will I ever learn to fully accept myself?
Will I finally find the courage to rock my curls, embrace my body, and genuinely love the woman God made me into--unapologetically?