“You’re not black!” is something I heard a startling amount of as a child and even occasionally now as an adult.
It was such a damning statement to hear when I was young that I began to identify with it, to see it as true. It began a decade-long struggle with identity that is still going strong to this day, and it all started with a stupid cookie. In middle school, I was transferring into the second or third week of sixth grade. By then, everyone knew their groups and their biases were affirmed.
They slapped me down the first time we spoke, by calling me an Oreo. For those blissfully unaware of the blaspheming of the most beloved cookies, an ‘Oreo’ is a way to call someone black on the outside but white on the inside. Or, as I saw it, “Not one of us”, a thought further enforced when upon one of my first interactions with a classmate who asked me, “Why do you talk white?”
I was stunned, because to my child mind all I knew was the way I spoke.
It was not an act or even a conscious effort to speak this way. The thought that I might be speaking incorrectly was horrifying to me.
Until some context kicked in, and I realized, she meant why was I speaking properly.
Now, until that point, I never bought into the stereotype of the “ghetto black girl.” Someone with a loud voice, neck rolling, and abundant usage of snapping, as there were plenty of white girls who did that too! But this….this was unexplored territory, and I felt alone and confused. Fast forward to my freshman year at an HBCU and I was completely and utterly lost.
I was about to drop out because of anxiety. I had no friends, I didn’t feel a part of the community, and I felt like an alien growth someone was poking at with a stick.
Because I, a “white speaking” pretender, did not belong.
No one spoke like me, liked the things I liked or even understood my lack of understanding weave. I was “other,” and it was scary to be so disconnected. Thankfully, I found friends, but it was not until I came home for a break that my mom informed me of something I had been painfully unaware of.
The longer I stayed amongst my people, the more I began to conform. I even stopped using some words altogether. Because they alienated my peers. I was the girl who spoke like she was better than them.
A coworker, of all people, reminded me of my other-ness once more. She was playing rap music, and while I am incredibly out of my depth with any new artist, I tried to identify it. No such luck. When I asked her who she was listening to, she seemed to weigh my words before she answered. As if my question was setting off “She isn’t really black” alarms.
When she told me the artist’s name, I just stared at her and nodded vacantly. Only to be abruptly reminded of my differences when she asked, “How do you not know him?!”
When I was fourteen, I had received a Green Day Album and was blasting it as loudly as my poor abused radio could handle it. But mom told me to turn it down, calling it ‘white music’. I do not know about you, but music doesn’t have a race to me.
This is not that “I do not see color” bull, I truly do not understand the difference between black music and white music.
It was not just my taste in music that seemed to set me apart, but my taste in television as well. For instance, I love the show Steven Universe. No particular reason I can point out, but the show just makes me happy.
I’m reminded that Boondocks is really the only thing I can discuss with my peers. Not that I have any issue with that show, I love it too. But it seems I am constantly pigeonholed by my skin. Which makes it very uncomfortable when I have to psychoanalyze every word from new people. To see if it was really thinly veiled insults towards me and my preferences.
Because it seems that while I am black, I do not appear to be black enough.
“If it is a white person singing, it is white music” persuasion.
I find it stifling.
It really sucks to have to deliberate my personality based on who I talk to, but I say all this to say, it is okay.
I know literally nothing about Love and Hip Hop. That doesn’t mean I can’t communicate with you at all, I just that I don’t prefer that show. Yes, I genuinely like music that has nothing to do with capping someone in the chest and stealing his girl. But I would love to discuss the impact of music media on consumerism in the black community.
So don’t blame our inability to gel on my lacking of “blackness,” rather than our lack of common interests. I have to agree with Carlton Banks, who said that being black is not something I am trying or should be trying to be, it is something I am!
I do not have to “act black” or “talk like a black girl” to appease anyone. To tell me I do is only letting me know who not to talk to.