Malcolm had those statue-of-liberty cheeks: chiseled so deeply that you noticed them before you noticed anything else: before you noticed his Black tea-colored eyes or slate smooth skin. We took a poetry class together during my Sophomore year of college. He would read James Baldwin aloud in his baritone voice from his seat in the front of the class, with his back to me; yet it felt like an intimate exchange between me and him.
I wanted that man.
He never knew. I don’t think he even knew my name or that we were in the same class together. All 6 feet of him would walk past me regally every Tuesday and Thursday, clearly unaware of my crush or even of my existence.
There was no use in me expressing my desires; my friends and his actions clearly stated that I wasn’t his type. He was part of the group at school (I think that they called themselves the Vanguard) who were pro-black. All of us students were attending one of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges around and most would consider us “down” or “conscious.” We voraciously learned our history; and participated in protest marches, voting drives, and the like to affect our future. We absolutely were Black and proud.
But, I wasn’t Black enough—not for Malcolm.
Malcolm’s crew prided themselves on being more conscious, aware, down than the rest of us. They, indeed, seemed better somehow—elevated. There were no relaxers, perms, White-designer clothing labels to be seen. They were health conscious and “down” before those things were things.
So, I, who was getting my roommate to slap a “Just for me” in my hair to help maintain my Farrah Fawsett hairstyle did not fit the script or look the part (and I knew not to show up for an audition).
I wasn’t Black enough.
It wasn’t the first time my Blackness was insufficient. Being light-skinned got me told off and my ass almost kicked more than once (as if I had gone to God and chosen this color over darker hues). My lightness made me feel as if I had to work a bit harder to gain acceptance into my brood.
It also didn’t help that I lived in a home where a shoe could be thrown at your head should you dare make a grammatical mistake. When I switched high schools—from private to public—some thought that I talked “too white” to be a Sista, which I recognize now is absolutely ridiculous. Most Black folks can easily switch between different dialects. We aren’t ignorant. We are versatile. But a high schooler, desperate to fit-in, isn’t aware of these things.
I had White friends and later moved from an all-Black neighborhood to an all-White neighborhood. I liked Madonna as much as I liked Rick James.
To many, I wasn’t Black enough.
Of course, I am more comfortable in my skin now. I’m comfortable in my Blackness –in my me-ness. I recognize that there is not one definition of what it means to be Black.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t question myself sometimes when I get checked. Now that I write a blog geared for Black people, I oftentimes get questioned if I am being Black –properly. Can I use stereotypes (if I say that a Black woman rolled her neck, I am casting all Black women)? Can I write a fictional story about a no-good Black man, without making my Brothers feel put down—again? Can I use slang or broken English? Can I call us out when I think we were wrong? Can I question other people’s Blackness (or am I being hypocritical when I cast out Omarosa or Tiger Woods)?
I don’t know. I do think about it. And I am struck that I must. Do White people consider their White standing? Or do they have the freedom because they’ve never been displaced, because their race hasn’t had to be defined anew to just be –whomever they want to be and whoever they are?
Do I have the freedom as a Black person to be Black like me? Do we have the freedom to be Black—as we are?
Is a person less Black if I live in an all-white neighborhood, go to a Celine Dion concert, attended a predominately White Institution (PWI), skateboard, are a Republican, or date a White person? If I straighten my hair, does that mean I am trying to be White or hate my natural curl?
Let’s consider the other side of the scale? What about those people who feel as if someone is not doing Black “appropriately” if they wear their jeans sagging, have dreads, listen to trap music, or call their best girlfriend “Bitch”? Do some dismiss other Black folks as being “ghetto” and almost see themselves as “different” or “superior?
Do we not, with our different levels of consciousness, education and socio-economics; different hobbies, political beliefs, lifestyles simply continue to create division within the very people who we so love? Can Black be Black splendidly, fully—individually?
I am Black—proudly Black—all of the time. Is that enough? Am I Black—enough?