The Limits of Blackness

Once upon a time in 1999, I was to wed a fellow, let’s call him, Grady McShady. I was in the midst of planning a wedding that McShady kept getting more and more controlling over. Then, when I was at wits end with him he told me he wanted to be married in full African regalia and I tried really, really hard to wrap my head around it. I tried to see the kente cloth, the royal blue bulky fabric, the unflattering shape that was not a white, poofy dress and tried to imagine it on myself, but it was so, so hard. I tried to bargain with him, that maybe he and the other groomsmen could wear kente cummerbunds and we could jump a broom but he put his foot down saying he would either get his African wedding or there would be no fancy ceremony at all.

So we got married in 2001 at a justice of the peace in Texas.

Long story short, it didn’t work out. But the point of this story is that I learned from my ex that there was a limit to my blackness. I told him I did not want my wedding to be a political statement. It is obvious that we are black people. It is obvious that we are from African descent, but I am an American woman. I want my big poofy white dress! I want big hair and Luther Vandross singing “Always and Forever.” Didn’t he understand you do not rob a woman of her dream wedding? So even though my future ex-husband McShady threw it in my face that my blackness was questionable because I didn’t want to wear this, his threats did not change my opinion about this dress debacle. There were other issues in that past relationship that I’ll probably blog about another day, but basically, what I want to know is … what is your limit to your blackness?

Some folks limit are defending R. Kelly and other black superstars who screw up. Others it’s using the term African American when they feel they have nothing to do with Africa. Some go into apoplectic shock over Black History Month (either because they hate the cheesiness or are insulted about the whole cramming-150-years-of-black-history-in-28-days thing) I draw the line at using weddings as political statements and celebrating Kwanzaa*.

I will teach my future children black history. I will drag them to the Civil Rights Museum and the Slavery Museum whenever it ever gets finished. I will tell them about Barack Obama’s run for the presidency and encourage them to love and embrace their culture and the beauty of black people, African and African American alike. But I’m not wearing traditional Nigerian garb at my wedding and I’m not celebrating Kwanzaa.

And OJ killed Nicole Simpson.

That said, what is your limit?

*Seriously, no disrespect but what the hell is Kwanzaa? As a reporter I was constantly assigned the black folks charity/pity assignment that was the Kwanzaa holiday. My editors never wanted to hear about black folks the other 359 days of the year, but come Kwanzaa time there’s a pathetic attempt at acknowledging that Negroes exist. No matter how many times I was explained the significance of the days and how the holiday encouraged blacks to have better self-esteem, be business-owners and foster stewardship over their communities I would have to do my damnedest to stop the eye-rolling. We couldn’t discuss black stewardship and fidelity on another holiday? Holidays are supposed to be fun or profound, not a civics lessons. Take Juneteenth, a black Texas holiday I celebrated as a child with my Texan-born father. It’s about celebrating the end of slavery. Now, that’s a holiday! That means something! We’re FREE, let’s throw the biggest party Texas has ever seen! Don’t make up a holiday when there are perfectly good holidays (King Day and Juneteenth) that are often under celebrated by blacks.

14 thoughts on “The Limits of Blackness

  1. All I have to say is:The Black Snob for President!No, really. These posts are so unbelievably channeling every single little inclination about race, politics, and culture that I’ve ever had that I feel like singing and dancing.But let me stop embarrassing myself…Once upon a time, I too was wed to someone. Let’s call her Tina McMeana. The wedding planning was going swimmingly — which is to say that my mother, her mother, and Ms. McMeana were busy building their dream wedding (my opinions, though I can’t claim to have had many, were mainly sought for symbolic reasons). In any case, the ladies were getting what they wanted. Terrific.All I had was one simple request.And who could blame me? I said nothing about the colors (ugh), the reception format (blah), the venue (huh?), or the numbers in the wedding party (Jesus!)…I kept my mouth shut so I could get my one. simple. request. I just wanted to pick the wedding song.The song: In a Sentimental Mood. Duke Ellington.Nice. Classy. Timeless.It would be perfect, I’d get a bit of jazz snuck in to help me keep my bearing — something my soon to be pop-in-law would appreciate seeing as how all of his biz buds and their families figured so heavily on the guestlist.And you know what? She agreed. Tina McMeana agreed! And I was happy.But not so fast….Fast forward to the night before the wedding when I found myself hiding from all my pals in a corner of the hotel bar with a nice glass of scotch, filled carefully and ever-so-often by an eerily sympathetic barkeep. The ladies were off doing God knows what and who do I see peeking his head around the corner, looking worried? My best man. He had come to tell me the news that he knew would keep me at that hotel bar far longer than I had already planned: his wife had just relayed the message that Tina McMeana thought we needed to change the wedding song at the 11th hour!The new wedding song? Beyonce. Singing something that I don’t remember and neither does anyone else.Long story longer — it didn’t work out. I like Beyonce. A lot. I think she’s a very, very talented pop music act. And for my money she’s one of the top 10 most attractive people alive. But my blackness apparently ends there. I do not want my wedding song to be sung by Beyonce. I want Duke. Or Miles. Or Luther. Or Marvin. Or, I don’t know, Anita. But not Beyonce.

  2. Glad you’re enjoying the blog, and I appreciate your regular comments, Blue. Please, feel free to spread the Snob love to anyone else who loves a good political/cultural debate.As for your testimony, that reminds me of the great Erykah Badu vs. India Aire fight I had with Grady McShady in 2001.I’m sure India Aire is great. But don’t make me listen to “Video,” and don’t accuse me of being an elitist because I like Erykah and Sade more than her. I just find her so pedestrian. There is no edge to her. I’d rather listen to better, edgy, even challenging black feminist music like some vintage Queen Latifa, Monie Love, MC Lyte or MeShelle N’DegeOchello. Cree Summer’s only album. Dionne Farris. God, Lauryn Hill before she fell off. I just don’t like India Aire! She’s banal! Don’t accuse me of being a sell-out. I listen to Erykah Badu, dammit!So that’s another limit.Oh, and Taye Diggs. God, I hate Taye Diggs and that hate knows no limits.

  3. I am NOT going to comment since we are related. I know my limits and since we come from same snobby family – I have pretty high snobbery and limits to my blackness :)XOXO šŸ˜‰

  4. Why should you have worn traditional africna garb? When are we going to get over this narrow vierw of “blackness?” Kente cloth is not the reality for many black people in America, myself included.I wouldn’t get married w/my head wrapped or in African garb and it has nothing to do w/denial of roots or disrespect to Africa.This type of nonsense needs to stop. I love Badu, Sade, Jill Scott, JDavey and a host of other black female artists. India Arie isn’t even on my list. She’s had some nice songs, but there is nothing dynamic about her persona. What makes her more “authentic” than anyone else?I grew up smack dab in the middle of Harlem, would that make me someone who doesn’t embrace blackness?

  5. I’m totally with you on the India.Arie thing. Badu is great because she’s a great artist, but also because she pokes fun at the whole black-boho-neo soul thing. I liked Arie’s first album, but I remember saying to myself, one false move and this sister will go into the abyss of banality. “Voyage to India” was a slip in that direction, and her third album a plunge head-first.As far the limits of my blackness, it would be any kind of hip-hop thuggery–“fitteds,” saggin jeans, athletic jerseys, or t-shirts of Tupac, Biggie, Scarface (Pacino) or anyone else who makes a living selling black death. Those kinds of clothes don’t even look right on me. If I put on any of that stuff, I just look like an out-of-date rave kid from the 90’s. Not cute. I have been known to rock a dashiki, but I don’t think it makes me feel any blacker than when I have on a skinny jean and an Afro-Punk t-shirt.

  6. I don’t get the giant Tupac/Pacino T-shirts either. I get that folks like Scarface, but damn. I like Serena Williams but I’m not wearing a giant picture of her on my chest.And that made me think of another limit for me. It’s kind of wrong for me to say it, but, I don’t like funeral T-shirts. I know people are grieving, but, man, did you have to spell out his name in Old English font and put “Ride or Die” on the back? Did you have to quote a Kirk Franklin song, or worse, a Tupac song. Or even worse. Three 6 Mafia.I shudder at the thought of those T-shirts.

  7. Ah… But you forget!Those funeral T-shirts (and memorial tatoos and car stickers, for that matter) are in no way limited to the black community (at least not in Bako, if I recall correctly).And I’m seriously getting off topic here, but I can’t help but mention I’m having funeral expense car wash flashbacks! Those were just tragic.

  8. I’m really feeling this blog. I like the way you think. And I agree about India Arie. She is the Avril Lavigne of RnB.

  9. *Gasp*!! i thought i was the only black woman that really does not care for india arie..she really is boring..what’s up with all that goody goody love the world shit? i could stand it…i need the sex and hidden vulgarity in Jill scott…ok there and i must say..i am your new biggest fan blacksnob..i post these on my facebook…I just LUVS it

  10. I have many many many limits. I know that. My latest one involves Tyler Perry. I am very happy for him that he made it out of poverty by doing something positive. Truly I am. But must I continue to watch him dress up like a fat black grandmother? I have my own fat black grandmother thank you very much. And she has a fuck of a lot more class than “madea”. I draw my line at arbitrarily supporting all things “black” regardless of quality, skill, or even the fact that said black people are grossly oversimplifying my/our people.

  11. I love this site, such good work on here and SCAN.Here are two of my limits. I will not defend a Black person who I think is guilty of a crime just because he/she is Black. A few months ago there was a very prominent case where an old White man shot two Black guys who were robbing his neighbor’s house. A local Black activist (who selected these Black activists and leaders, I didn’t vote for them) organized several protests including ones across the street from the old man’s house. A grand jury let the old man off. I truly believe that without all the hoopla he would have been charged. The grand jury members probably felt more sympathetic to the old man because there were people screaming at him day after day. The old man was wrong but so were the guys who got shot. If they had been just strolling down the street and he shot them I would have been protesting and writing letters but committing crimes sometimes put you in danger. Also I really don’t like the term African American, I prefer Black (capitalized). I know that not all people from Africa are Black and that that has been the case for centuries. I don’t know what countries my ancestors come from or what languages they spoke. An Italian American may still have older relatives back in Italy and they know exactly where they come from. Our experience is different, not lesser, just different so our name should be different.

  12. BlacksnobI hear you. My limit to blackness is having pity for hoodrats and thugs who act like they don’t know any better. I think John McWhorter said it, but you don’t see poor white people running to the Appalachian Mountains saving PWT. Black Bill Cosby.

  13. Well about the Kwanzaa thing… my parents are from Nigeria and all, and we celebrate Christmas. It’s funny, because everyone is always expecting me to know all about Kwanzaa, but I don’t. As for the black/afro american/african american/negro/whatever the hell white people want to call us, I say let’s just pick one name, and stick with it. I’m good with black. And my limit, I would say Jesse Jackson and all his reverend civil rights we-know-what’s-right-for-all-black-people friends. That comment and all about Obama… I don’t think I trust him anymore. It doesn’t matter that he apologized, because he still said it.

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