Am I Black Now?

Am I Black Now?

“You are an oreo. You are black on the outside, white on the inside” “Why do you like all that white stuff?” “Do you want to be white?”

These phrases are what I have heard not only from peers, but from family members as well. Obviously performing or adopting characteristics only belonging to another race speaks desire to be something other than African-American. The stigmatization of race contains characteristics proscribed unto the race. The establishment of this is derived from ‘essentializing’ the term, which enables the construct to possess associated terms to contribute to a proxy temporal definition of the term. Therefore, anything that is an attribute to a certain race can now be labeled, for example, a ‘black’ thing, a ‘white’ thing. These stigmas and accompanying characteristics are now permanent, practiced, expected, and ingrained as traits of a race. However, these characteristics are not practiced by every member of a race causing perplexity, because of the lack of conformity to societal ideals of a race. The absence of assigned and performed racial African-American archetypes[1] should not reinforce and perpetuate limiting characteristics that constrain one’s identity.

The racial identity is cemented in the African-American as its characteristics are perpetuated through society and inherited. The characteristics ascribed or expectations are many and have range of topics. There is a perception that the African-American is to not be articulate or be knowledgeable about proprieties. The African-American Community is associated with the Hip-Hop, R&B, and Rap culture, which influences dress. There are many associations of African-Americans and danger. Moreover, they’re to dwell in the ghetto. The successful African-American is considered an anomaly or phenomenon. These stigmas and characteristics are ingrained in other races as well, to which they have systematic responses. These characteristics become ‘racial bounds’ and what defines the individual of that race.

When someone goes beyond these characteristics, or becomes contrary, questions of identity approximate. However, the subject at hand is usually unaware of their border crossing until people subtly refer to their border crossing, being suggestive of an impropriety made. This is either surfaced by a person of the same race or the race/group that one is seen ‘crossing into’. The person of the same race will take it as an offense, while the race ‘crossing into’ would be curious. As these comments arise, there is an event to which asks the person to choose an identity.

There are many types of denial present when the event arises. If one chooses the new identity over their natural one, there is an assumption, specifically in the matter of this paper, a denial of African-American identity. Moreover, a non-conformism, a rejection to choose a race. This is considered as a form of denial, which holds as much strength as choosing one identity over the other.

However, there is a situation that arises when a person chooses to synthesize identity. Though very unlikely to be successful, there are still anxieties that approximate, which creates a division of self and mild paranoia. When it comes to acting within the group or when having an audience, one must think is it ‘black-enough?’ or is it ‘white-enough?’. There is still a split in the combined identity. Double-consciousness flares from the consciousness of the division of self. Double-consciousness, a term coined by WEB DuBois, indicates that these separate identities are not unified, and any occupation assumed beside the natural one is governed by racial component; the race influences and precedes the occupation that one situates. An example is, ‘I am a woman’; ‘I am a BLACK woman’. I am no longer primarily defined as a woman, but identified for my race. These identities are synthesized abstractly, but within the individual there is tension when these identities are being questioned and when attempting to sever the natural racial reality and progress to another. Moreover, society puts a pressure on acting accordingly to your stereotype, to which now one is paranoid if what they are doing, in this case, abides by the proxy definition; it leads to the thought ‘is it black enough?’. This same mindset is established when one is attempting to adopt attributes/characteristics of another race, to which the question is, ‘is this white enough?’. There will always be a double consciousness, and the more identities one attempts to adopt, another layer of consciousness/anxiety will surface.

The accusation of denial comes across as an affront. In this case, one tries to reconcile the identity through a reaffirmation for love of one’s race and culture explicitly. This is done through donning tribal clothes, singing Negro spirituals, wearing one’s natural hair, among other demonstrative actions. This reaffirmation often stems from anxiety of displacement, for the race one is supposedly ‘crossing into’ can never be truly assumed, for the former is never discharged.

Why is there anxiety and tension concerning one’s practice and performance of their race? The African-American Community, who are effected by the identity placed upon them, hold this latent anxiety. There is an anxiety from losing ‘one of us’, that I call the ‘stolen’ attitude. The stolen attitude stems from long years of slavery and lack of rights. Not only were slaves taken from their birth country, but individuality, political and natural rights, among other things were seized. There is a need to have something of our own, even if it is just our minds. To see another African-American swayed into the notion that whites are superior leading them to be mentally ‘taken’ is a tragedy. There is also a sense or anxiety that the person that supposedly does not want to be ‘black’, with the presumed mindset of white superiority, may lead them to be ashamed of heritage, and add to the discourse of the degradation of African Americans.

The categorization or assuming another characteristic that is indicative of another race, leads people of the same race to assure and exhibit ostracism. Which, in most cases, is a form of social excommunication. The presumption that a denial of race further means a denial of association infers no reason for an invitation to occur. The invitation supplies the indirect role of membership. The accused is shunned and pronounced other, until some reaffirmation.

In my personal life, there have been many instances of being thought of as rejecting my African-American culture and heritage. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, which is a heavily concentrated African-American area. In this homogenous state, my peers fed into the stigmas and assumed racial archetypes, however, I did not. I didn’t listen to hip-hop or rap music, my passion was in alternative and punk rock. Because of this choice of music, people were always referring to my music preferences as ‘white music’. As I was very enthralled with the rock scene, I would straighten my hair until it was bone straight with a side swept bang. I would wear copious amounts of eyeliner, wear black, go to concerts, among other things. With this, I was then classified as an oreo, or wanting to be white. I understood their deduction, but I never wanted to be ‘white’. I never once forgot nor could ever erase my skin tone, forget the history and stigmas that come with it. I am proud to be black. The preference that I supposedly had, never should have assumed such disarray thoughts, that I didn’t pride myself in my culture. This association of characteristics of the white race—rock music, that I ‘wanted’ to conform to, never crossed my mind. I was styling myself from the music I was listening. The supposed ‘denial’ I had, led me to never be invited to parties; when I would ask for an invitation, I would receive the response, ‘Oh. We don’t have or listen to your kind of music’. At that moment, I was signified as other, I wasn’t black anymore. I tried to reaffirm that I was black. I would, on free dress days, wear a shirt with the continent Africa, wear a tribal head wrap, and learn current rap songs. I performed my racial archetype to redeem my blackness. However, after persistent events, I decided to not conform to either side. I wouldn’t let a race or choice of music define me, especially when it came to education and art.

Over the course of my education, I found that I loved literature and playing the violin. However, my double consciousness would surface when others would question me on the art that I produced. Though customary to have recitals of the classics, my family wondered why I didn’t adapt or reconstruct ‘black’ pieces of music to fit the violin. I didn’t play pieces from my ‘culture’. As I love to read, I was questioned on why I wasn’t reading a ‘black’ book. When producing my own drafts of literature, I was found, to no surprise, guilty of not incorporating ‘black’ culture, making all characters black, among similar things. This instilled an anxiety for me, as an artist, because my race must take precedence over any occupation. I must question myself, ‘is this black enough?’.

The Black Artist in the public sphere is consistently criticized for the art they produce, along with who and what it represents. A modern example would be Beyoncé and her critics stating her work is not ‘black enough’ or does not stick to African American roots. Though Beyoncé has always been nominated under the categories of R&B and Hip Hop, her music, especially in 2009 had pop music aspects. Even though she has always fancied herself blonde highlights, she now dons wholly blonde hair. Her skin color fluctuations are often debated. In her L’Oréal campaign, with the True Match Foundation release, they described her as African-American, French, and Native American. This was broadcasted as she is something other than black, a sort of uniqueness to her. However, these facets never proved her rejecting the race. There is no statement of not wanting to be black, however, these actions don’t align with the archetype.

Though Beyoncé has always had a black band, always promoting African-American success, showing pride in being a woman, there still seemed a need to reaffirm her ‘blackness’, through explicit pride in identifying as African American. This is depicted in her film/album Lemonade, which has many different elements of African-American history, dress, hymns, hairstyles, and art. Her lyrics in the song Formation establish pride in her and her daughter’s African-American features. This demonstration has allowed her acceptance back into the community.

Moreover, the black artist must suffer the anxiety, of ‘is this black enough?’. There seems to be an idea that one’s race is always going to be the forefront of identity instead of the individual. I cannot be just a writer; I am a BLACK writer. The addition of race and all it constitutes and ascribes seems to be inescapable. To work outside or blur the walls of ‘black’ or ‘African-American’ seems to be unacceptable.

In opposition, some would suggest that there are those of the African-American community that may want to denounce their race. There is no question that there are some that want to reject their race completely, and desire to be associated with matters not pertaining to the African American community. This is a rational idea, for the African- American race is thought inferior, why not assume characteristics or adopt certain aspects of another race, to enjoy the benefits. Alternatively, set yourself higher in the hierarchy in the African-American community, as being close to ‘whiteness’. However, there should not be a generalization that all who act outside of the archetypes of African-Americans, are rejecting their race. Universality statements and assumptions is what keeps the essentialist idea of racial boundaries and characteristics brewing.

The African American is not bound to the racial construct and what it contains. Race is an abstract, a figment teasing the bounds of construct and physical. It now governs every subliminal thought and law made. To let it govern over the individual is a shame. The anxiety one feels to perform, address, deny, conform/not conform, is overwhelming. The absence of racial archetypes should not perpetuate these limiting characteristics filled with anxiety. I should be free of this, yet it is still ingrained, I am still conscious of it. Even now, I contemplate while writing this paper with anxiety. I have a black topic, I express my ‘blackness’, I am reaffirming my blackness, yet I still ask, ‘is this black enough?’, ‘Am I black now?’

[1] This refers to archetypes meaning definitive characteristics or set of stereotypes that produce a schema of identity.