Growing up in America being Black- but Not Black Enough
I am an African American woman born in 1987, well after the 60’s, which was when black people were still fighting for their equality in a racially-divided America. I wasn’t born into the hardships of the laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern United States. My parents were not sharecroppers and neither were my grandparents. I did not grow up in the ghetto. My community wasn’t predominantly black, and my school wasn’t either so I was always considered snooty by my black peers….although a lot of them attended the same school I did.
I have always been black but not black enough.
Most people think that if you’re black, you must be poor right? Well, if you ask my mom, she’ll say that we were poor, but I don’t remember that. From my birth up until my early teens, we lived in a two-bedroom-one-bathroom house that my dad built. We had chickens and ducks. We had blueberry trees that lined our house, and we had a large vegetable garden. My mom and dad both had cars to drive. Every summer vacation, my mom would throw an “outta-school” party for my cousins and us to celebrate being out for a while. We’d run through the sprinklers. My dad and his brothers would play basketball. My mom would bake all these sugary delights and make every southern barbecue/fish fry dish you can imagine. That doesn’t sound very poor to me. My friends at school agreed. They’d call me ‘rich’ and put their pinkies in the air when they saw me. I’d shrug it off. Should I have been ashamed for my dad owning a business and my mom being a housewife? Well, I wasn’t.
Do my parent’s career & lifestyle choices make me less black?
In elementary, I befriended a white girl. We called ourselves “TNT” because both our last names begin with ‘T’. Although we don’t talk like we used to due to this adult life, I still consider her to be the best friend I ever had. Race never came up between us. We never thought about it, but others did. My black friends would ask, “Why are you always with that white girl?” Another would respond, “You know Renea is white anyway.” They’d laugh, but I never found it funny. Recently, she told me that her white friends were picking on her as well. They were calling her a “nigger lover”, but she never showed any signs of the strain our friendship was putting on her life.
Does having a friend of a different race make me less black?
The taunting was happening at home and at school. My older sister resented me for getting good grades among other things, and she’d mess with me every chance she got. One day, she hit me in the face with a jump rope and laughed. Another day, she pushed me down in the rocks and busted up my knee. As we got older, the interactions became more violent. You could call it sibling rivalry, but comments about my skin being lighter were made. “You yella and think you’re all that, but you’re ugly, and you look like Bugs Bunny with those teeth,” she would say. First off, I haven’t been “yella”—meaning very light-skinned, yellow—since I was a baby, and what difference would it make if I was? I can’t be mad at her though, not when it comes to that. She’s literally a product of her environment. All my relatives would say those things. All my black friends at school would say them, too.
Does having lighter skin make me less black?
By junior high, I was fighting with more than just my older sister. I had changed schools, and the students at this school were the meanest I had ever come across. They pulled my hair and threatened to cut it off. One girl put my hood over my head, tied the drawstring tightly around my neck, and proceeded to try to choke me. When I quickly got free, she laughed and said, “I was just playin’”. My teachers didn’t make my struggle any better. I’ve always done well in writing, and my teachers would use my work as a guide for others. Every time they used me as an example, I wanted to disappear right then. After class, I’d hear them mocking me and my work. “’I think I’m so smart because I’m Renea, and I have long hair.’ Stupid bitch,” they’d laugh. “I can’t stand her ass,” another would say.
I was always black but not black enough- never one of them.
This has been a constant in my life. I got to the point where I was so tired of sticking out. Perhaps, I just needed to be around more black people to get more of the black experience, so I enrolled in a HBCU—a historically black college or university—in hopes that I would connect with others who looked like me. It backfired. Once again, I was singled out in classes. In my English composition courses, I was in the top, and many around me were at the bottom. People I’d befriended made fun of me for trying to study and go to class. When I answered questions, I got the stares, the sucking of teeth, the rolling of eyes, and it didn’t get much better after converting to Islam. I withdrew and moved.
Does my academic success make me less black?
I’m supposed to take it to the streets when I see another white police officer kill an unarmed black person. I’m supposed to go protest. I’m supposed to be an activist. I’m supposed to be angry. I’m supposed to be ‘black and proud’. I’m supposed to be unapologetically black, but I honestly don’t know how to be any of those things. I’ve never been fully accepted by those who look like me. Don’t get it wrong; I have black friends I absolutely love and adore…now, but we have differences of opinion about many things regarding the black culture.
I don’t believe that I must think and believe everything the next black person does. We are not monolithic. I can be an academic. I can travel the world. I can also twerk to Cardi B and pop my neck and wear bundles if that’s what I choose to do. I can grow a ‘fro, talk about my black being beautiful and how I crave black love and pretend that all makes me ‘woke’. I can read and write as many books as I please that have nothing to do with being black…because every day I wake up and breathe is somehow supposed to be dedicated to black people and culture, right? Well, I don’t feel that way. I can’t feel that way because the very people I’m supposed to defend have GREATLY offended me.
Should I have changed my entire personality to be ‘more black’ so I could gain acceptance?
I’m married to a pale-skinned Egyptian, and someone will say that I married him because I hate myself, that I hate my race. I don’t. Come on. I’m black. My mama’s black. My daddy’s black. My grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond are all black. To say, I hate my race is to say that I hate the legacy that was paved for me. My hurt runs deep but not quite that much. That’s just who I love and who loves me back, and it’s no one’s business but ours and God’s, BUT my fellow black people SWEAR that it’s their business, that I owe them an explanation, that I can’t be trusted because “I didn’t buy in”. What does that even mean?
Did my color change because I married outside my race and culture? Did I stop living the black experience? Again, black but not black enough.
I’m often in this in-between space because I’m not black enough for black people, but I’m too black in other situations. I’ve been rejected by schools abroad because I’m “too dark” and because I am “African” which isn’t what they want in an expat teacher. I’ve also been told I’m nothing BECAUSE of my blackness. My job offers are less BECAUSE of my skin color. I’m discarded for the very thing that my black peers say I’m not (or not enough of), so…
What am I exactly? Sometimes too black but other times, not black enough.
Yes, at times, I’m saddened by this. It’s affected me throughout my life, and some black, American expats still try to test my blackness while living abroad. However, I think these interactions have given me the thirst and hunger to live amongst other cultures. It’s pushed me to befriend people who don’t look like me, who aren’t where I’m from, and I’ve discovered that I can honestly just be myself without so many expectations placed upon me (there are still some). The only expectations really placed upon me abroad are those of Americans in general. They assume I’m rich. They assume I went to Harvard or Princeton. They assume that I come from New York or California. My young students assume that I know how to break dance. One of my students did ask me if it’s true that black women are angry. These are all things they’ve picked up from Hollywood films.
Traveling gives me the opportunity to show them that we’re all different, that we all have our own personalities despite sharing the same nationality, ethnicity, and/or skin color. It has also made me more comfortable sticking out, and I no longer have this burning desire to blend or fit in. I now appreciate my uniqueness.
Despite what my black counterparts may think, I’m black… and I’m enough.
Would you like to share you experience of being a black person in your society? Or maybe you, as an African American, have a different opinion. Share with us in the comments below!!