Hello. My name is Macha and I feel like asking the asking the question (and maybe ranting a little), about who decides who is and isn’t Black. Originally I thought it was meant to personal choice of self identification. Something that your family shares with you about your heritage and past. Sometimes, I’ll admit, it is based on varying shades of skin color.
I watched the movie Gandhi the other day, and Mohandas Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa for being Black in first class. The republican party has made an executive decision that Barack Obama doesn’t count as Black because he’s actually “hafrican". Although somehow he was Black enough for Rush Limbaugh to sing “Barack the magic Negro”. How confusing. Once at work I was told I only count as half, not a whole Black person, (they never bothered to ask what my ‘make-up was’ they just assumed because I am light) and yet I endure all the “you’re Black, you understand…” comments. A friend of mine, Joey, received an award in 8th grade, it was given to him with great intentions I’m sure, but Joey received The Gift of Blackness. It came complete on a plaque, from the hands of White school administrators. Maybe it was just in case he forgot.
As a scientist it’s hard for me to understand how being Black is quantitative, yet it is. Early in my life, like grade school, I was taught that Black was something you were born as hence skin color, and no matter the shade any pigmentation you had labeled you Black. I was ok with this, as it makes logical sense. As I grew into a teen, I learned from both Blacks and Whites, that there was such a thing as Not-Black-Enough or Too-Black. This is a bit perplexing when you’re at a self defining age. This Black Authenticity wasn’t solely based on skin color, although at first it was, the lighter you were the less Black you were, but then it morphed into a social standard. This is when I started asking myself who set this social standard and what was its purpose. In my mid teens not being Black enough meant that you were probably light, listened to music other than rap, had at least a few non-Black friends, strait hair, and in my case, God forbid, a vegetarian. Too-Black was a caricature of what White people think Blacks are; Dark skin, kinky hair, opinionated, loud, intimidating, only associate with other Blacks and you blamed everything on the man. In this world there is no middle ground. Do you see my dilemma? This definition of what was authentically Black (‘Too-Black’ or ‘Not-Black-Enough) does nothing but cause infighting and confusion. And worse, it makes us blind to the image that we hold in the world in general. We can become so absorbed in being enough or too much that we fail to realize that we still stand as a whole body. It’s the ultimate weapon against Black people as a whole. United we fight, divided we fall.
I realized one day not only was I being played, thinking maybe I wasn’t Black enough, I had let someone else define what being Black meant to me. Blasphemy! It wasn’t even Blacks who defined it. My parents did a great job, but they were competing with millions of media messages and the day to day of, well... White people. I said to myself one day, Do you see how stupid this is? Someone else has defined Blackness for you. I continued with questions like, who decides this? Is there a committee somewhere in the world that defines Blackness? How come I’m not on it? Are Black people making this decision, or are our decisions being influenced without us even realizing it since birth? Is this why from the time we’re little we’re told to straiten our hair? Is this why there are no dark haired Black women in pop music or television? Maybe that's why every light skinned girl on American Idol has to press her hair by the end of the show. How come we’re so quick to throw on a blonde weave and contacts? Why do we think rapping about bitches and drugs is ok when we can walk outside and see what that music is doing to the self esteem of our brothers and sisters? Why is R. Kelly ok and Michael Jackson is not? Why is this message SO important for me to hear and WHO is sending it to me? And it’s not just true for us, it’s everywhere.
Maybe you sitting there, you’re not Mexican enough, Chinese enough, Persian enough, hey maybe not even Irish enough. Did you let someone else define your identity? Did you even realize you let them? My parents taught me that you never have to explain yourself to anyone but yourself, and it took a lot of self actualizing to wash all the media versions of myself out of my head. We live in a world where ‘the one drop rule’ is very much in effect, to ignore it is to ignore the sun in the morning sky. How can we let a person or media question who we are at the core and not say anything? How can we not arrive at our own conclusions? We have to say something, and by saying something we are defining who we are. We are in control of the self definition we want in the world, and we all as individuals need to take these steps. Being Black to me is much more than listening to Beyonce, perming my hair and eating pork rinds. If that sounds insulting to you it should, but think about it. You define you, no one else.