More than any other race, I have noticed that being black is policed by what you do and the kind of company you keep.
For those of us who choose to go against the stereotypes of what is deemed “black,” we are othered. We are considered trying to be something other than what we are because we may like something like comic books or pop music. And this is especially true when you’re a black person with mostly white friends. But here’s the thing — my blackness has never been defined by what I do or the company I keep.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that there is no one way to be black. Growing up, I tended to like things that my black peers deemed “white” — I had stacks of The Baby-Sitter’s Club books and loved celebrities like Justin Timberlake and *NSYNC.
But let me be very clear: I have never in my life ever wanted to be anything other than black. I may have wanted a less unique name for a while, but I was a tween and that’s a time in your life when all you want to do is blend in.
My dad is a militant black man who lived through the Civil Rights Movement. He has seen and heard it all. While he doesn’t hate white people by any means, he also taught me from a young age what they were capable of and that many of them were racist. Since the people in my life didn’t seem racist though, I never gave those lessons a lot of thought. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening — they just didn’t feel relevant at that point in my life.
For most of my life, my best friends have been white. It was not a conscious choice; it’s just the people I’ve had the deepest connection with. Most of the people I’ve had romantic relationships with have been white too. Again, not a conscious decision, just who I tend to be attracted to. Some people would argue that somehow that means I have a level of self-hate or some sort of dissatisfaction with myself. Nope, not.at.all.
I love being black. But I also have love for my white friends and partners. Who I’m friends with or who I’m dating doesn’t have any sort of direct reflection on my blackness.
In the last five-ish years, I have become more unapologetically aware of my blackness. Likely because I’m ridiculously aware of how my skin color affects the way I walk through this world. And also because I have a son who is mixed race, and it’s my job to teach him about his heritage. As I’ve become more secure in my personhood, I’ve become more secure in my blackness. And the white people in my life don’t have a problem with me either.
They don’t treat me as their “black friend,” a person they can use as a “get out of jail free” card. They never look at me as the mouthpiece for my entire race, but as an individual with her own opinions. We can sit and have a dialogue, and when I talk about my frustrations with white people, they don’t get defensive. Because they have taken the time to understand the inherent differences in how we view the world.
If I was defined by the company I keep, I wouldn’t spend so much time being angry. Understanding my blackness and cultivating what being black means to me has been an eye-opening experience. Growing up in the last 30 years, it’s been a largely “post-racial world,” meaning that we didn’t have difficult conversations about race. We barely had any conversations about race. And not just in my house, but in the country. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been a thing that is there.
It’s easy to reduce a black person who doesn’t follow the stereotypes of what a black person is supposed to be to a person who might be ashamed of who they are. And yes, those black people exist (folks like Ben Carson, Omarosa, and Kanye West come to mind). But to simply say that I don’t like being black because I have fallen in love with someone white simply isn’t true.
There is no one way to be black. There is no one way to display your pride in being black. I celebrate my blackness by sharing my experiences with others. Being black and proud is me spending countless hours calling out the shitty behavior of white people. My pride comes out in the time I take to help my white friends learn about how they can actively be better people. It’s in me telling my son that being black is in your heart, no matter what your skin looks like.
Being black isn’t defined by the music you listen to. It isn’t defined by the books you like to read. For me, being black isn’t defined by the people I call my best friend. And it certainly has nothing to do with who I sleep with and fall in love with. My blackness is defined by waking up in this skin every day and knowing that I come from greatness. That I am descended from a people who have been beaten down and don’t let that stop them from getting back up.
My blackness comes from knowing that no matter who I’m with, they don’t dull my black girl magic. So stop seeing who I love as a definition of who you think I think I am. Because you’re wrong. I am always a strong black woman.