Right now, I’m enjoying Baratunde Thurston’s book, How to Be Black. Every afternoon, when I can carve out time to actually read instead of write, I’m somewhere in full public view, steady laughing out loud—or, at the very least, smirking to myself—about his snarky commentary and funny recounts of stories from his childhood. His mother, a woman with a definitive love for her Washington, DC community and her people in general, reminds me a whole lot of myself, who forbade my elementary-school aged daughter from watching Disney movies because I didn’t want the mainstream image of beauty to infiltrate her mind before she was equipped to fight it off.

I was also pressed for her to understand the real Africa, not the Africa we see represented on TV. It may be a while before we can actually set foot on motherland soil; prices for those trips are no joke for one, let alone two people, unless we poke some air holes in one of my suitcases and take the Samsonite travel discount. (Just kidding, department of family services folks!) But if I had anything to say about it, Girl Child was not going to grow up thinking that all they do on the continent is starve, swat flies and forge war.

So when I think about how Black my Black is, I think about my own mother because that’s where this whole love of self and culture came from. Wasn’t no ho-ho-hoing Christmas decoration or no craft fair trinket that didn’t get penciled in brown, if it didn’t come that way in the first place. She wasn’t militant; she just believed in celebrating the beauty of us. I think we all start piecing together our first rudimentary bits of self-identity based on what we learn from our families.

Still, for all of our joy of being in the skin we’re in there existed, among my immediate and extended relatives, an unpublished law book of things Black people did and didn’t do that were just unspoken rules of the culture. My mama swore Black people didn’t waste food. My uncle claimed Black people didn’t drive anything but American-made cars (yes, he really said that, and I think he was only half-joking). My cousin insisted Black people didn’t dig rock music or pierce weird parts of their bodies. It took a little work to dislodge Blackness from the corner it had been jammed into and listen to my Alanis Morrisette with unapologetic pride and laugh off some of the broad-stroked cultural conventions that are supposed to fall neatly into “Black” and “Unblack” categories.

  • http://www.comebyyuh.com Jamara Newell

    I don’t think anyone should stop doing what they like because it isn’t Black enough. But pretending some things are not just white folk or non Black folk things make less sense, most things arise from some sort of cultural expression. If you are culturally black likely you are going to be something that is apart of your culture. If you aren’t then you aren’t culturally black and you might as well accept that reality and move on.
    I am a family based person and my blackness is derived from how my parents and so on express their culture. If they say something isn’t Black then it isn’t and I’m likely to avoid it.

  • full moon

    My Black is being Me! A yearning to know where I came from. A burning itch to know the truth about my ancestor’s and what they knew. A desire to find truth iin all things. A need to know thyself, to learn all I can, to move people to action. I am a Black women who is searching for the better part of Me! The way I move, the way I think, the way I speak, the way I dress, the way be…is my Black. I love being Black… I Love being apart of the Black race.
    We are all connected by the blood that runs through the veins…we are all lost because we have lost our true selves. If were were never enslaved mentally by the white man…we would not wear flipflops during winter solstice…we would not wear weave…we would not marry out of our race…we would not be plagued by out of wedlock births, poverty, our men abandoning their people, we would not each this shit we eat, we would not kill over blocks, we would not hate our sisters and brothers like we do, we would not act like sluts and gansters for attention. I think we agree that Black is not what it used to be. But iam still proud…mainly of who I have become and of the fact that I SEE!

  • Ras_the_Destroyer

    “I saw sisters strolling around in coats and flip-flops and brothers, sometimes a one-man wolf in a pack of white dudes, strolling around in shorts in the wintertime.”

    Therein lies the problem. The black male in question went with the prevailing cultural cues because he did not want to experience xenophobia. It’s called the possessive investment in whiteness George Lipsitz described. I seriously doubt he or anyone else would do that mess in a predominantly black setting. For example, the only time I see black women wearing a coat and flip flops or shorts and Uggs is when they are in a predominantly white setting. The same holds true for a confused negro wearing shorts in the wintertime.

    Second, I look at race as a series of concentric circles. There are people in the homogenous zones (or areas where one group predominates) having little in common with those in the intermingled sections. A phenotypical connection to persons in the homogenous zone does not qualify an integrated/intermingled negro to speak for or disparage the behavior of persons in the homogenous zone. An affinity for things in the intermingled zone does not make that affinity black either. It means you are probably a fly in the milk looking to blend in. You ain’t foolin’ nobody but yourself.

  • Luna

    This is funny, since many Asians, Latinos and native Americans do not see themselves as a monolithic group. Dominicans do not see Mexicans as one of their own, because they speak the same language. Bengalis do not see Indians as one of their own, just because they live on the same subcontinent. Koreans and Japanese haven’t really gotten along with each other for a long time and they hate being mixed up with each other. People generally don’t like being part of a monolith. It’s understandable why Black Americans from different parts of the USA, as well as West Indies blacks and West Africans identify with their culture or sub culture 1st and race 2nd.