“You talk white.” one of my fellow classmates said in disgust, prompting others around to snicker and giggle. I was in the 2nd grade, it was just after lunch and we hand made it to the concrete covered field our elementary school dared to call a play yard.
I had never in my 8 short years only planet earth given much thought to how I spoke, until that day.
Honestly, I was always commended on my speech from church leaders, my teachers, most of all from my own parents who were the guiding reason I spoke the way I did, all of whom were Black people. It wasn’t until middle school that I was even exposed to White culture and White people.
I didn’t know all of the ins and outs of that statement, or how ridiculous it was to assign ethnicity to a certain way of speaking, or that it could have been my classmates own insecurities that prompted the comment. All I knew, at 8 years old was how it made me feel; like an outsider, like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t Black enough.
What I grew to learn was that these conversations were happening not just to me but to the majority of other Black people I would encounter. Most Black people, at one point or another, would have their “Blackness” questioned. It’s so prolific, we even now have a game about it called Black Card Revoked (not a plug but the game is quite fun.)
What makes someone Black? And who really gets to decide who else is Black?
Is it those with straight hair or weaves or naturals or locs? Do they have slicked edges or kinky coils?
What skin tone do they have to have, and are light skinned people just tossed out for good measure?
What food do they have to like? Are they the keepers of the sweet potato pie recipe or the loved potato salad bearers? Are they the savory or sweet grits folk (if they like grits at all)? Do they twerk or do they salsa?
Is English their first language or maybe they speak French, Swahili, Patois, or one of the American dialects?
Are they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Atheist?
Are they urban, rural, suburban, island, desert, mountain people? Where do they (or their parents and ancestors) have to be born for them to qualify as Black people?
Better question: Why is this a question that only comes up for certain folks but not others? Why does the challenge of identity only come to certain individuals but not others?
In our culture, there emerges weird need to gate keep who is Black and who’s not.
I get it. In the days of Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug and when every Instagram Influencer seems to be doing some form of Blackfishing or performing their perception of what they believe Blackness is because Black seems to be the trend nowadays. We in the culture have to guard authentic Black experiences from those who are merely present to siphon and benefit from without being a part of or contributing to these communities.
But when it comes down to a person who literally finds her heritage with us, the sudden exclusion that emerges from certain individuals is disgusting and disheartening.
I am speaking of Kamala Harris, who shattered glass ceilings this election by becoming the 1st Woman, the 1st South Asian, the 1st Black Vice President Elect of the United States. What has emerged with all of those historic firsts has not been VP Elect Harris record, her qualifications, her preparedness, all things that should be focused upon in greater detail than currently (By the way, this writer believes she is MORE than capable and prepared to do the job.)
What has emerged in these discussions is Vp Elect Harris’ identity, and not in a positive way. To be clear, VP Elect Harris has identified as a Black Woman. That is where the conversation should end. Unfortunately, it has not.
My question is this: Why are people who are NOT Kamala Harris, trying to identify Kamala Harris when Kamala Harris is perfectly capable of identifying Kamala Harris? Does she not have a Black father? Has she not experienced the world, navigating its complexities, as a Black Woman? What hoops must she navigate in order to be seen as Black enough? Why is this even a conversation?
The conversations stops where she identifies. At least, it should.
The fact that there is even debate over her own identity is absurd. The fact that its rising from her own people is disheartening.
So what makes a person Black? Is it not based on lineage or personal history? Is it not common experience? Is it based on only external qualifiers or internal approval?
There was a conversation of who is Black enough a few years back that is very relevant to this conversation we are having now. It started with this tweet:
Are we done with @Luvvie , @amandaseales , and others who claim Black American DOS culture but don’t really like us?
— ツ (@WomenInTheZone) August 21, 2018
For those unfamiliar with the term, DOS is short for Descendent of Slaves. This Twitter user even continued her tirade against these women, saying:
These are just facts. Black DOS can’t be bothered with culture vultures. It’s not just a history lesson that you appropriate because you have Black skin. Yes, we done.
— ツ (@WomenInTheZone) August 21, 2018
My question is this: WHY IS THIS EVEN A THING?
Do DOS Blacks have an exclusivity on the market of Blackness?
Are we the only ones with the rights to be called Black, omitting those from the Carribean (who most likely are also DOS) and those from the continent?
Is Blackness only defined by a heritage of slavery, oppression, violation, and pain? Is Blackness only seen in its comparison to Whiteness?
Those of us who are American born Descendants of Slaves may be a different expression of Blackness from those born on the Continent, or have different experiences than our Afro-Carribean or Afro-Latinx community. But at the end of the day, we are all Black people.
Of course, both women addressed the foolishness. While Amanda Seales tweeted;
Do you understand the INSANITY of a Black woman telling me that I am a culture vulture of black culture? 😂😂😂 I’ve literally heard it all!
— Amanda Seales 🇬🇩 (@amandaseales) August 21, 2018
LOL. I was born here. My father is Black American. I hv literally dedicated my life 2 the upliftment of my ppl & culture. I don’t kno WHO u THINK ur talking 2 but u r uniformed, mislead & I am simply unmoved by the fool’s hill upon which u & ur cohorts have planted their flag.
— Amanda Seales 🇬🇩 (@amandaseales) August 23, 2018
So just like I tell these white folks who attempt to use discrimination to silence what I’ve got to say, i invite all of you to GO FUCK URSELVES. My work, advocacy, and activism will continue as BLACK AS IT CAN BE and without any approval from any of you.
— Amanda Seales 🇬🇩 (@amandaseales) August 23, 2018
Luvvie Ajayi wrote;
“Some people believe that those of us who aren’t borne from a legacy of slavery have no place in the conversation because we aren’t directly tied to that particular type of struggle. So is Blackness earned through some sort of pain? Do I need to suffer in a specific way before laying claim to it?
If you were always middle class or upper, are you less Black?
If you are light-skinned and haven’t had issues related to dark-skinned discrimination, are you less Black?
If you are Afro-Latinx, are you less Black?
If you do not have ancestors who were ever enslaved, are you less Black?
We often say that Black is not a monolith and then at the same time we dare question Blackness that doesn’t look like ours. We cannot have it both ways. We wonder if the person who grew up differently than us really loves Black people. Everyone isn’t Omarosa or Stacey Dash just because they have been privileged.”
So what is the point of all of this?
The point is that none of these asinine points matter. Not one of them. Especially in the current climate and times we live in where it does not matter what experience of Blackness you have, you can still be a victim of racism, white supremacy, and unjustified police brutality, and not one of those experiences will you be asked “Are you from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, Asia, or the US?”
Blackness is not a monolith, it spans a wide and vibrant breadth of color and culture and creativity. There is no one way to be Black. No one has exclusive rights to claim ownership over Black.
Just like I was told in various ways and in various arenas that I was not “Black enough” despite being a DOS, being born here, and raised here, Blackness is not one experience, but many.
While this conversation is worth having on the many expressions of Blackness, is it really worth attacking one another, like this, on soial media, right now, in this time where it feels like “open season” on Black people in general?
Quite frankly, I appreciate the voices that are speaking up for Black people, whether they be Luvvie Ajayi or Amanda Seales, Bernice King, Symone Sanders, Angela Rye, Maxine Waters, or VP Elect Kamala Harris or any other sister bringing her own voice to the fight and ultimately putting herself on the line.
Maybe, instead of trying to quantify and qualify who is able to speak for Black people, the Black people involved should take their own voices and themselves on the line for a greater and more beneficial fight for Black people worldwide.