How do you define "Blackness"? Or "being Black"? Can this truly be defined?
My mother is Italian, full-blooded. My father is Black and possibly Native American. He'll never do one of those 23andme kits and besides that we no longer speak. But his whole life he's identified as Black; therefore, for the sake of this article we will just say he's Black. I grew up identifying as Black as well – my father used to say, "you'll never be confused with your mother and you're not identifying as "other". You're Black." As a former militant for Civil Rights during the 60's and 70's, he taught me that I was Black before anything else.
So imagine my surprise when I entered school and realized that nobody thought I was Black. With my "good" hair and reddish complexion, I was called everything BUT Black.
"Are you an Indian?"
"You look Puerto Rican."
"You can't possibly be Black."
"What ARE you?" (Yes, not who? What?)
Of all the things I was called, the worst would be a "mutt." By some stories I heard, that is probably tame; however, it didn't make it hurt less. Teachers would ask if I needed to identify as "other" because they knew my mother was White; however, my father would absolutely forbid it and tell me to identify as Black. Being called anything but Black would confuse me – how can I not possibly be what my father said I clearly was?
Most demographic choices have changed to "two or more races" and when that is a choice, I choose it. If it's not a choice, I still choose "Black" or "African-American." It has been instilled in me to never choose "other" because I'm not an alien, I'm still a human being and I want to be identified as such. There's an importance in belonging. As an adult, though, the surprise in my Blackness is still there, especially as I work in Corporate America. Among White or non-Black colleagues, there's always a disappointment that I identify as Black or at least identify that my father is, in fact, a Black man. To be fair, this has not been all of my White or non-Black colleagues; however, it has happened at every job I've been in by at least one or two of them.
"Really? I would have never thought you were Black. You look (insert race here)."
"Your features are so exotic, though."
"You're Black? Oh. (cue side eye)"
But as an adult, I've been most surprised at the backlash from Black people themselves. Part of it, I get. For a long time, there were Black women who said they'd never have a baby with a Black man because they wanted their babies to "have good hair" or "be pretty" and didn't identify Blackness as having those qualities. Of course, this is not only false, but to be blunt, ignorant. Black IS beautiful. Flat out. Babies of all races, in my opinion, are beautiful (don't you talk about someone's kids). There's no truth to the contrary. For centuries, Black people have been told their features are ugly, unfavored and unattractive - and this has been especially true with dark-skinned Black women.
They've watched Black men themselves move towards light-skinned complected women or women of other races for the same reason their aforementioned counterparts have. They've deemed them as favorable and beautiful – leading some dark-skinned women to bleach their skin or put on makeup to make themselves lighter, so that they'd be identified as attractive enough to garner the attention of those men. To say dark-skinned women are unattractive is a damn lie. I see beautiful Black women in all shades on a daily basis and I'm proud to see them clapping back on the lies that have been said about their beauty and flipping those standards on their heads.
While I support that pride, what I don't support is how this pride in Blackness has turned into, a lot of times, a disdain in biracial or multiracial women, like myself.
I've been flat out told by Black women that I'm not Black and cannot identify as such because my mother is White. By proxy, my children aren't Black either, even though their father is, because they say I'm not. In saying I'm not Black, they also vastly discount my identification in the struggles of being a Black woman because they can't possibly equate to the struggles of being a "real" Black woman.
They've told me, even though I grew up in the inner city and went through public education in the school that was identified as the "ghetto" school in the area because the population was predominantly Black, that my features made it easier on me to be successful and not be judged as harshly as my darker skinned classmates. Although I am college educated, they attribute any accomplishments I've made to my "lack of Blackness." And so on and so forth.
I haven't had it any easier in life because of my mixed genetic makeup.
At one point, I encountered not being able to identify with any one race. Too "white" to be Black. Too "black" to be White – even though I never identified, or wanted to be identified, as anything other than Black or, at least mixed. I longed for acceptance and, in some way, as I grew up, I was afforded that acceptance by friends of all races. It's easier to be multiracial today, as there are more children now than ever born as such. But the fact is, I am a Black woman. My father was right – I will never be confused with my mother. I am okay with that – and why shouldn't others also be okay with that?
My Blackness isn't questioned when it comes to my salary, nor is it questioned when a non-Black woman sees me and clutches their purses. It didn't stop a White woman from calling me a "Black bitch" at a gas station last year. My mother's race hasn't made it any easier on me to be successful or stopped the struggles I've encountered at every turn in my life. Nor does my mixed race make me, by default, more beautiful, attractive, or better than any other woman who identifies as Black.
So the question, again, is who gets to define "Blackness" or "being Black"? Who gets to identify who I am and who I consider myself to be?
In my opinion, I do.
I define who I am. I always have and always will. I am proud of my Blackness. I am proud of my "mixed-ness" (new word that I just made up). I am proud that I've had the same struggles, because I can identify with and fight for my brothers and sisters to eradicate the problems and atrocities we still deal with today. I believe in justice for all and know that there are times I don't get that consideration just like any other Black woman. I don't expect, or want, or even accept, special treatment because of my genetic makeup. I will always be quick to correct anyone that doesn't believe in my Blackness, no matter who they are or what their intention, because I am proud to be who I am.
At the end of the day, we have better things to argue about right now than who is Blacker than the other, and enough to overcome than to identify standards of beauty within our community.
We are all beautiful. We are all worthy. And that's all that matters.
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