So, I had to deal with a recent encounter of intra-race policing. In the middle of having a conversation with someone about rock music, a completely different person swooped into the conversation and completely interjected with “Are you Black?” We’re all in the same room, I’m not obscured annnnnnnnnd that was a really random comment when the subject was just on “Oh, so you like this band? Have you heard of this other band?” Ah, Black folks telling me how to be Black because they know near nothing at all. I immediately and snarkly responded “Uhhhh, I’m related to Marcus Garvey and my hair is in afro-puffs so maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe?”
The person responded “Who he?”
Are you freaking kidding me?
How is it this person wanted to police my Blackness because I listened to a Black created (albeit White washed) genre but she don’t even know who Marcus Garvey is. Dude, if you know less Black history than a White person, that’s when you put away your race police badge and keep to yourself. Of course, as with my experiences of dealing with dimwitted people, the person decided to keep talking. Despite the fact there are members of the Tea Party and hipsters more informed on Black history than her, person continues, “I hear you talk and you don’t sound like a Black person.”
If the person was smarter, the word they probably was looking for was “mushmouth”. I don’t sound like I dropped in straight from a minstrel show. Or “hoodrat”. Come on, I can speak 5 languages – excluding Latin – and have an English degree. Yah, I probably wouldn’t sound like an illiterate person. Reading books, particularly books with actual sustenance and even cultural value, can do that to the brain, even while Black. I know, shocker, right? It’s – it’s almost like I’m a multi-faceted person.
Let’s not even get into the fact this was when Shades of Ritual was coming out soooooo it isn’t exactly like I don’t spill ink on the subject of race to have some lesser informed bumpkin attempt to check me on something they themselves know way too little about. Thaaaaat irks me because it means all the stuff I say, the theories and explanations I implement, all that means, like, nada because being informed and simply different – not doing anything wrong like doing drugs or harming people – just being different, or simply considered different, apparently equates to “Whiteness”. Basically, when these folks think they are somehow fighting Whiteness by saying ostracizing things like “You sound White” or “How come you don’t talk like you Black?” (read: why do you sound literate? We’re supposed to be allergic to education.”), they’re actually upholding Whiteness through self-oppression and spreading that self-oppression around like SARS to others.
Then here came the kicker: “I’m not racist, I love White people, but just by listening to you , you don’t sound Black. It’s just -”
I’mma let you fill in the gap.
This person barged into a random conversation about music to call my racial identity into question as if that’s totally normal and then wants to go “I’m not racist.” Dude should have completed the sentence with “I just don’t like seeing Black people act like individuals with lives of their own. It bothers me because a White person hasn’t signed off on whether we can have access to it. That’s really important, ’cause how we know we Black without a White person to measure against as the yard stick?”
That’s upholding Whiteness, whether they like it or not. If you’re Black and hearing about a Black parasailer bothers you because “Black people don’t do that, we’re terrified of water”, that means you’re upholding Whiteness by saying that a) This Black person is not Black at all because only White people can have fun and do daring things, everyone else has to settle for the usual “crappy life of the Negro” narrative where it is filled with just about nothing fun but there’s an awful lot of stress so here you’re already ostracizing a person from their own culture just for following their own passions and b) This person is an outsider because they’re too different, therefore somehow “not Black”.
Remember, Blackness isn’t theatre. You can be Black while astronaut, astronomer, parasailer, skateboarder, rock climber, aircraft trike pilot, whatever. You don’t magically turn White because you didn’t live in the projects, got a good education, got a job you actually like or listen to a Black created genre of music such as rock or blues or jazz (or basically nearly every genre but classical and polka). You’re still a Black person. Skin still dark. Nose still wide. You didn’t magically change into a White person because of your individual interests. Folks tend to forget that. That’s why I snarked to the person who asked me the really stupid question, “Oh man, I forgot I was Black. Lemme go rob somebody to redeem my Blackness. Totally forgot.”
That kinda made the person quiet for a minute. They went, “Not all Black people rob and are like that.”
“You said I wasn’t Black enough, I guess that’s what Blackness was. Thieving and acting like you came out of Birth of a Nation” Yes, this chick most likely didn’t know what Birth of a Nation was but who cares? Probably would have treated as a life guide of how to exist while Black whenever BET has slow days.
Look, if you don’t question someone’s racial identity of whether or not they’re Black when they’re joining gangs, committing crimes, living on a suffering wage or listen to gangsta rap but you do when they’re not, that means you equate Blackness with eternal hardship and to super limiting genres which further regurgitate those hardships – again, which upholds Whiteness because hey, why wait for a White person or institution to oppress you when you’ll do it yourself? What convenience. That way they don’t have to work or risk looking criminal because you did it all to yourself. Self-oppression/internalized racism does not fare well because it causes just as much damage as expressed racism – if not more since it is coming from the exact group you’re part of. You’ll hear such popular hits such as “You must think you White”, “Why are you such an Oreo?”, “You know Black folks don’t do [whatever it is that you’re doing]”. As aforementioned, these folks think they’re protecting a really monolithic and (usually toxic) idea of Black culture but man, they’re upholding Whiteness like there’s a trophy to get out of it because the Black culture they’re thinking of – that one is actually framed through the lens of Whiteness.
Whenever I get the “You don’t sound/act/look/think Black,” it’s interesting what folks count as “Black” and what is counted as “White”. It’s like a really screwed up game of Green Glass Door:
- Talking standard English or simply without a hood draw to your words = White. This mean you could be a Black person that was born and raised in England and because you have a British accent, you are somehow “Not Black” on the grounds of “Black people don’t talk like that.”
- Liking anything that isn’t in the narrow confines of what is considered Black culture today = White. Apparently, if you like rock – even if all the bands you listen to have all Black members and the lone fact that rock was created by Black musicians – or anything that isn’t hip hop, gospel, R&B and/or Soul, somehow that means you’re not Black anymore.
- Not Christian? = Brainwashed by White folks to think that you’re White. Despite the pretty glaring fact that Christianity itself in the US was only “accepted” by Black folks because it was forced on to us as a psychological tactic to break all bonds and ties to identity and a sense of self so to make a “better” slave. (This doesn’t mean that Black Christians are slaves to a mentality but it would really help if they understood how they historically came upon the faith they have.) According to my experience, even simply praying or acknowledging African deities made you “White”. Whiiiiiiiiich doesn’t make sense, especially considering historical context.
- Dress in raver clothes? Like punk? Prefer to have glow in the dark dreads in every color possible to glow in the daytime and nighttime? White, White and White. And you can forget that whole “Black carefree girl” thing, it doesn’t include Black girls in alternative cultures such as Rivethead, Cyberpunk, Goth or even Lolita.
It’s really frustrating and that frustration can be ever so apparent. There are Black kids in alternative cultures or simply with unique interests to them who want nothing to do with mainstream Black culture because they pretty much got pushed out by all the “Not Black Enough” chiding they heard everywhere from Black people. That alone can make people internalize self-disdain, racism and even make someone engage in dangerous acts such as skin bleaching because they’re so convinced that what they’re seeing is all Black culture has to offer and what they’re getting. In making a choice backed by all the ostracizing, they rather not be associated with all that, even if it means using caustic chemicals on themselves. That’s a problem.
Race policing should be used for people to get accustomed to seeing a Black person not simply be a stereotype or to expand their interests outside the super-enforced monolithic depiction of Black culture. It shouldn’t be used as a method to convince people out of improving themselves or exploring the varied interests they may have because that doesn’t protect Black culture from being further infected with Whiteness, it actually reinforces Whiteness because what is usually sided with what is “Black” and what is usually sided with “White” is nearly night and day. And Blackness is constantly aligned with negative traits and aspects, even if those traits and aspects aren’t true.
Basically, it really annoys (practically infuriates) me to deal with Black folks being more prejudiced about Black people doing things than White folks are. Nothing good comes out of the mentality. At all. Being Black is not a performance where if you stop, it goes away. It’s part of who you are, no matter what.
So seriously, wipe off the burnt cork, it really isn’t necessary.