Thursday, March 6, 2008

proving your _____-ness. fill in the freaking blank.

so i ran across this article at times today (it's listed as one of the "most emailed.") basically, the article is titled "how do you prove you're a jew?" and it has me thinking about an experience i had this weekend with some friends.

i never have to prove my jewishness. i am not a jew. i do, however, sometimes feel that i am asked to prove my blackness. it's something i resent and that i have struggled to deal with and get past my entire life.
(more after the jump)

one reason the whole argument over barack obama's blackness never made sense to me is the fact that i have often been accused of not being "black enough" and both of my parents are black. i have no white mom to confuse my identity. i do, though, have a variety of experiences and a history of self-doubt and low self-esteem that have created an adult who still wrestles with "proving herself."

so back to this weekend. i was hanging out with a boy. a boy that i have a humongous crush on. we went to the black comedy experiment on friday, and the apollo on saturday. it was nice. he's cute. he's smart. he's funny. he's also BLACK (yes, in all caps, just like i told my friend laura a few days ago). i, on the other hand, am black (yes, in all lowercase). he went to an HBCU. i went to a top ten small liberal arts school. he was a tv junkie as a child; i was only allowed to watch tv for a few hours on saturday, after i finished my chores. he loves 90s hip-hop and other "black" music; my fanatical parents only really let me listen to the radio once i was in high school. before that, i was relegated to james dobson's focus on the family, d.c. talk, and jars of clay.

we are different, yes. but is it our "levels" of blackness that are in question? if so, what is this checklist of things that "real" black people must aspire to fulfill?

now, i know that there are tons of complications (in my own mind as well as in the minds of others) on this issue. a few of the ones that come to mind:
  1. when white people do/like/are interested in things that are given other racial markers (i.e., things that aren't listed on what white people like), they are regarded with suspicion and considered to be co-opting another culture.
  2. when black people "sell out" and support/do things that are considered to be negative for their own race, they're seen as "oreos"
now, like i noted, i think that way as well. i think al sharpton's permed hair is an abomination, and white people with locks and dirty clothes that try to preachify on issues of equality and revolution annoy the hell out of me. but i don't feel like i'm trying to be "white." in fact, that's the last thing i want to be. i have devoted my life to education and activism to further the "struggle," yet my authenticity is still measured by whether or not i can recite the script of that boondocks episode by heart.

sometimes i am still the 11 year old girl i once was, with glasses and braces, feeling uncomfortable at the BSA meeting at the prep school i was only able to attend with an almost-full scholarship and countless sacrifices on the parts of my parents. the other black kids at the school, and in BSA, had parents who drove mercedes and lived in big houses in nice parts of town. they called me an "oreo" while laughing at the uniform clothes my mom found for me in the lost and found. i was the inauthentic one, always, because i didn't think the black scholarship boys, who came from liberty city and overtown and played football, were so exciting as to be worthy of my adoration. my hair wasn't permed or pressed yet, and i liked to read and study and get good grades.

any ____-ness, any identity, has its markers, i know. and i know there are any number of reasons to feel like an outcast in a situation. i also know that i was just a nerd, and that was just as viable a reason for the kids to make fun of me as any other. i guess i just feel like i didn't, and don't, want to have to change to be able to be seen as part of my race. if i can't sit at the cool kids' table, so be it. but to not be black because i don't hate acapella singing groups? damn.

that smarts.

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