The Definition of Blackness

Pictured my Arkansas family including my Aunt Dot, her children, my Great Aunt Ollie on the ground in white with a little girl who I believe is Big Sis. In the blue baby doll dress and afro is Mama Snob. Ever so fly as always.

Once when she was a teenager Baby Sis witnessed an argument between two County Brownies over whose parents came from the toughest circumstances. They battled Sounder allusions as if the trials of their elders could tangentially pass on to them and give them a poverty pimp narrative to dull the sheen of St. Louis County suburban life. The fought for street cred superiority in a world of ice cream socials, designer jeans and mini McMansions. In a world where mothers enrolled their daughters in modeling classes and the only urban boot worth wearing were Timberlands.

To Baby Sis it was lame. We couldn’t claim our parents’ narrative. We were the products of good jobs and integration. Our parents were the products of overt racism, debilitating poverty and constant struggle.

But this pathetic debate was classic in the war over blackness, in the war over what is “authentically black.” Where ghetto fantasies are encouraged while the children of the Talented 10th covet commodities and cache. Where you sound street but go Wall Street in a paradox of niggerdom.

I grew up in a ranch home with a huge yard. Both my parents were college educated. I took dance classes and piano lessons. I painted and doodled and played “imagination” for fun. I spent hours playing and watching cartoons. I was never hungry. I was always safe. I received a car when I graduated from college. I never had to worry about a thing.

But is my experience authentic? No one ever wrote a rap song about Girl Scouts and Black History programs.

Black poverty romanticized to the point where the actual pain of the inner city is a soundtrack to the affluent, white and black. A mother mourns her teenage son, a scholar, who’s life is cut short by a stray bullet. It is recycled and remixed to bang, bang, bang, drop the rocks, it’s hot on the block, fuck ’em, I don’t care, I got cheddar in hand, I’m the pimp of a mother’s prayer.

You wear my clothes
You wear my shoes
When you get sad
You sing my blues
You wear my hair
You war my skin
I won the war
I won the war within

We used to be sold
But now we sell ourselves
The children are buying
And they just cannot help
Copping our culture
They just want one more hit
We’re like one janky-ass fetish
That they cannot kick

It’s emphasized in our music, in our literature, in our art. County Brownies would try to prove who was the most “down” by dropping gratuitous “nigga this” and “nigga that.” They bragged about going to “the city,” to hang out with the real “niggas.” They knew folks. They Crip Walked. They kicked it with the hardcore. Because the city was where the real blackness was. The badassery for douchebaggery. The city was where you could be down.

But a County Brownie could switch in a minute. They didn’t like the deseg kids. They were bused in because of some court ruling. Something about integration. But no one cared. The deseg kids were anathema. They were lower than low. Their clothes weren’t cool and they didn’t talk right. They didn’t act right. I’d call it classism, but that was a dirty word in blackland. In the authentic black identity there’s only one class and it has no class.

I was raised in an all black suburb called Hathaway Manor North. It was the kind where all the white people fled when my parents and other blacks moved in. All the people were married. All the kids were relatively good. The neighborhood was relatively crime-free and peaceful. Everyone had good jobs–teachers, principals, ministers, letter carriers, postal workers, union day laborers, business owners, middle managers, white collar execs. It was what you’d hope a black community would be. Everyone looked out for one another. Everyone knew each other. Everyone pitched in to make it a nice place to live.

I loved my old neighborhood, but when we moved to the “white” part of the county when I was 13 things changed. I remember how excited the few black kids at my new junior high were because I was from “tha hood.” I was from the ghetto. I was supposed to be realer than real, shittier than shit because Hathaway Manor was O-Dog tough, or so they heard.

They wanted to know about the gangsta shit. They wanted New Jack Suburbs. I didn’t understand. How could a Hathaway be “tha hood” with manicured lawns and teachers/preachers’ kids? But they told me I was wrong. That I didn’t know my old neighborhood and school. They told me dystopian fantasmas of Nino Brown and fights everyday, of the cops being there everyday. Of crack-fueled sexcapades and things of Donald Goines novels.

That I was a black girl lost to a dopefiend’s whoreson waiting on Kenyatta’s last hit.

But I was dullsville. I wasn’t cool. I had no stories of break-ins and drive-bys. I’d never been in a fight. I didn’t curse and I spoke perfect English. I didn’t use any slang harder than “Gee whiz,” “dang” and “gosh.” I liked classical piano and drawing cartoons on my notebooks. I liked history and English and Tevin Campbell songs. I dreamed of holding his hand while he sang “Can We Talk.” I dressed like “Blossom.”

My only friend in junior high was Brandon, a black kid from Milwaukee who missed his hometown and trusted no one. I had to “win” his friendship because black kids ignored him. He was “weird” and “quiet.” I talked to him in math class even though he didn’t trust it initially. But I won him over once he realized I didn’t judge.

He was a nerd who carried a huge, black tote bag where ever he went. He always wore a white dress shirt and black pants with black tennis shoes. He drew cartoons of dragons and castles in the sky. I think we took comfort in not being the only ones. We became good friends. People balked. Thought I was lame for hanging with him, but we were the only ones. The only ones who didn’t want to be “down.” Who didn’t want to pretend. We were who we were.

But we weren’t “black.”

I can sing almost every Negro spiritual. I have southern roots that I love. I have two black parents and I was raised in a black neighborhood. I went to an all black elementary school. I know my black history up and down. I know my African roots.

My skin is brown.

How could I not be black? What on earth is blackness? What are the rules?

Should I perm my hair bone straight? Should I wear it in an afro? Should I drop some “niggas” in my speech? Should I love Jay-Z and listen to
Lil Wayne? Should I grow dreads? Should I get into Pan African culture and start wearing dashikis? Should I live on the hardest block in St. Louis’ North City? Should I smoke Phillies? Should I engage in Jesus flavored braggadocio? Should I be real cool and leave school? Lurk late and strike straight? Sing sin and thin gin?

Jazz June and die soon?

Who is black?

This weekend Joshua Packwood became Morehouse College’s first white valedictorian. He was raised by a black stepfather. He called the men of Morehouse his brothers. He choked up as he spoke of fellowship and respect.

“For four years, you have given me inspiration,” he said to his classmates. “I thank each and every one of you for making your ancestors proud, and for making me proud.”

He was so immersed in “blackness” that the recruiter at Morehouse didn’t realize he was white. His brother plans to attend Morehouse as well. The media is in a glow over this, repeating the fact that Packwood could have gone to “any school” but he chose Morehouse as if Morehouse were grossly inferior. They talked about it like it was pity or charity or some ultimate symbol of white Liberal guilt redeemed in this brave individual.

They skipped the blackness. They glossed over the black stepfather. They glossed over his pride. The glossed over that this was real for Packwood. Not a stunt for diversity.

Was that blackness? Does Packwood fit in the definition? Is blackness a color? A state of mind? A mixture of both?

I have to admit. I still question my blackness even though my skin tone trumps all. My two black parents trumps all. I am and will always be a black woman. But when I find myself preferring Dave Grohl and Rilo Kiley, preferring “white” rock music and Lena Horne jazz standards am I betraying blackness? When I won’t watch a Tyler Perry film but will run to a Martin Scorsese production, is that a sin? When I find that I can relate more to my white co-workers who have done more and seen more than the put-it-all-on-the-Lord-in-Prada churchniks I met. The ones who didn’t watch films with subtitles or listen to music without words. Did I betray blackness then?

I was forever in a Negro wasteland of stunted vision.

It wasn’t until I went on-line and started reaching out that I learned I was not the only one. I was not the only one not “authentically” black. There were others who enjoyed both Zora and Hunter S. Thompson. Who liked comic books and abstract art. Who craved culture and vision and dreams and something more. Those who have ideas and heart and fight. Those who are launching a revolution that they aren’t even aware of. Launching a voice that is rarely heard. We are on the frontlines of forethought. We will rescue blackness from itself. We will make it more than a Boyz in the Hood fetish of 40 ounce fornication, soundtrack provided by a perversion of P-funk.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for … to redefine blackness.

31 thoughts on “The Definition of Blackness

  1. This definitely hits home. I didn’t have a tangible awareness that I wasn’t considered black enough until I moved to California and the only people who befriended me were a group of white classmates. Unfortunately I let my insecurities get the best of me and I succumbed to peer pressure to “stop hanging ’round those white girls.”–Ironically, I spent the last year of high school alone and friendless. Ha!But the internet is a Godsend, isn’t it? I do diverge from a few people I’ve met (Tyler Perry makes me laugh, sue me), however most of the time I’m gaping, wondering where people like y’all have been all my life! It’s part of the reason why I begun to blog: challenge to blackness for nonblacks and to challenge it for blacks. A lot of times I feel like a “fraud” because I feel more comfortable visiting ONTD than Bossip, and geeking out over a good book rather than watch TV. But then I remember that feeling that way is allowing others to define “blackness.” It’s the biggest injury that has hobbled the black community, imo.

  2. not particularly relevant to the blog post, but when the whole story about josh packwood broke, i did a search to read a little more on how he decided to attend morehouse…what factors in his upbringing brought him to that decision. well anyway, on facebook, this cat’s profile pic is of him bare-chested with dress pants on carrying a briefcase. although a nice lil pic, not exactly the type of pic i would expect a newly minted morehouse man and soon to be employee of goldman sachs to have on his page. clearly he missed that day of teaching at morehouse… :-/

  3. angela: I think the media has hijacked the form of “blackness” that sells best to the masses and the masses want ghetto fantasies, hence it becomes the only legitimate experience. I’ve been able to make friends with white and black people. I tend to win black folks over. In their efforts to urbanize me fail they usual start to respect my values and intellect and stop trying to “fix” me. In college it got to the point that weed loving fornicators were telling me that I needed to stay home and study because I was the only person they knew who was graduating.SIUE is like a black hole for academic achievement.TalentedTenth: Sounds like he’s just as ridiculous as a lot of college students who haven’t figured out your boss will look up your Facebook page. Young folks. I swear.

  4. Good post, Snob. Ditto and ditto on this one. Don’t like Tyler Perry.Would see a Sophia Coppola film any day over his stuff.Rilo Kiley not such much, but I’m all over Yeah Yeah Yeahs, C.S.S. and Tegan and Sara. I love it when I hear the you’re not Black enough speech from my own mother. I also love it when my white friends are sorely disappointed when I don’t give them the “street cred” one gets when they have a Black Friend. Hilarious.Blackness as it is defined by most people (dominant culture) is largely negative to begin with. It is sad when I hear young children tell some kid that he/she is “actin’ white” simply because they’re speaking correct English. Music: that’s another one. I remember hiding my Beck “Mellow Gold” cassette tape inside of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle cassette cover so my Black classmates wouldn’t find me out.The list goes on and on. Culture is culture. Skin color, race and ethnicity is something else. We as a people have internalized so much BS about how Black people should look, talk, think and behave that we shun our own for walking along the margins. And P.S. Have you noticed that many of the Black folk that are labeled not “Black enough” have the highest levels of negritude and social awareness? Maybe it’s just me.Oh and that Morehouse guy…yeah, something bothers me about that whole thing and I believe you alluded to it in your comments about absolving white liberal guilt and the whole “he picked Morehouse over all the other good white schools”. There is something in the overtones of that story that don’t rub me right…

  5. Snob, I so relate to your post. You summarized my life in a nutshell. Although I don’t mind going it alone in order to be true to myself, it certainly is good to know that I am not alone. Thank you.

  6. I’ve felt similarly– knowing black history means you’re not black enough? My dad made me learn the names of every member of the Congressional Black Caucus before I could go away to college. Not black enough? I’m darker than both my parents (okay, unless the mailman was involved…) but because i grew up after they moved to the suburbs, blackcess denied. But I feel you– it’s not necessarily about that anymore, and thank goodness. Because I love black people.And about Morehouse– good for Mr Packwood. Doesn’t the corporate media know how many black men are kicking themselves for not being able to get into Morehouse? I *covet* the Morehouse men I’ve met, they have it going on. It’d be great if it took care of that whole Facebook thing, but there’s only so much you can educate a brother.

  7. I never considered myself uppity until I got to grad school, and HBCU by the way as well, and I was telling some of my friends that my parents and I did a lot of road trips (visted all 49 states and 7 Canadian provinces by car) and some of my other experiences as a kid with various summer programs and whatnot, and my friend was like “You’re uppity! Embrace it!”Hence the Uppity Negro Network.But, by in-large, we’re really taught to hate our experiences as those who are inbetween. If you’re not all the way the end of the spectrum, we’re either “too white” for the fools running the streets and all thugged out in white tees, Air Force 1s and other nameless rabble of hoodies and designer jeans, or we’re “too black” for the fools that are light-bright one shade from being white and think every association with blackness is akin to sin.When I started UNN it was really my way of saying, I’m black, whether you like it or not, and guess what I’m uppity along with it–AND I’M NOT APOLOGIZING FOR IT! Too often, I think, in my own humble opinion, that we as the inbetweeners (often recognizable when our blackness is challenged) take an apologist stance, and we (me included) at one or another have really “tried to be black.”I just really sucked at it in high school and came off as a semi-dork. I think the only reason why I could pull it off with the black kids at school was because I went to a THOROUGHLY mixed high school it was about 33% white and black and the rest divided up with Latinos and Asians, and it was a cadre of black kids in my class who all traveled from opposite sides of the city to get to this school, soooooo….NONE of us were that dumb because CLEARLY we all tested to get in. But, I had a horrbible mouth, still do, and cursed alot and I was to occasionally make a scene, and I had no problem making something a race issue–that got me black points.For me, I be who I be, and I’m not apologizing for it.I did my post on Packwood, and somehow folks REALLY missed the big picture. Had nothing to do with Packwood as an individual, it was about the whole media playing into the idea of what was considered black and what was considered white. I don’t have the link, it may be on my page at the bottom, but I’d also add that Packwood had went to an all-black high school as well–DUH, Morehouse makes sense for him!

  8. Great post as always Snob. I chuckle sometimes at how “Blackness” has become synonymous w/ignorance, nihilism, poverty and self-destructiveness.It’s a damn shame and I am w/you 100% on re-shaping Blackness and re-defining it for the 21st century and beyond. The narrative MUST change.I remember having an argument w/a brotha about the fact that I went to Greece before I saw Africa. Can you believe that nonsense? Dude acted like he was “The Negritude Police” and questioned my “Blackness”. I’ve been blessed to travel and will continue to do so for as long as I’m alive and able.It’s stupid incidents like this that make me want to kick ass.

  9. Thanks for this post. My parents split up the summer after 5th grade and my mother, my siblings and I moved to CT. I started school in September in a Black town and attended a large Black middle school. (We’d formerly lived in a pretty White area in Florida.) One day at recess was called an “Oreo” by one of, I thought, my closest friends. She made fun of the fact that I “talked white,” “dressed white,” (<- I mean, I just looked ridiculous in Cross Colors) and preferred MTV to BET. [The fact that I was a conscientious student did not help. Get straight As was just more evidence of my whiteness to them.]I had no idea what the word meant and had to go home and ask my older cousin. She said, “It means you’re only Black on the outside. On the inside you’re White.” We went to the same school and it was easy to see that she was often embarrassed of me and that regardless of what I did she said, “everyone could tell that I was an Oreo wannabie.”Being called an Oreo was (and sometimes still is) devastating for me. It left me terribly insecure about my authenticity as a Black person. This insecurity followed me throughout middle school and high school, despite the fact that by high school we were in a more mixed town and I had another Black friend who was more my speed. We still weren’t “down.” We still were wannabies. Never mind that all of the kids who derided me for not being Black enough knew nothing of Black History, nothing of Jazz and the Blues. They made fun of me for loving Rock&Roll and when I pointed out to them that not only did Black people create Rock&Roll the greatest rock guitarist of all time, Mr. Jimi Hendrix himself was a Black man they scoffed that obviously he wasn’t Black either.Now that I have grown up and into myself I’ve been able to see that I am indeed Black enough. (I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!)The Internet has really helped me to know that I’m not alone and that more importantly, we’re all OKAY. I feel, for the first time, like I am connected to a group where I belong and my authenticity isn’t dissected, it is celebrated.

  10. What makes a Black person, Black? What a funny question. This is the same shit you experience in the Hispanic Culture. What makes you down? For Hispanics you have to at least watch “Blood In & Blood Out” & “American Me” once. Montoya Santana is our Scarface! You have to own at least one low-rider with your Flag, Virgin Mary or your woman sprayed painted across the hood. And last but not least you have to be able to drink Coronas or Modelos until the sunrises again. Sound a bit familiar? The similarities in our culture are amazing especially when you consider the fact that we are segregated in most major cities across this nation. But that is a different discussion! So, I understood your entry to mean, the more “Ghetto” you are the more down you are perceived. Correct me if I am wrong but “Ghetto Youth” across the board is pretty much the same no matter what your race is. From my experiences 3 things qualify you as a “Ghetto Youth”1. Being Poor2. Being Poor3. Being PoorNow my upbringing was by no means a pleasant one. My family came to this country in 1983 when I was just 2 years old without a dime and made the best of it. I grew up in one of the most gang infested areas in the North Side of Chicago. The apartment complex where I lived as a youth was literally a whore & crack house. On an everyday basis I was recruited heavily to get involved in a gang ever since I was 10 years old. I witness my first death when I was only 13 years old. Does all of this make me Down? Am I now considered Hispanic enough? Did I pass certain qualifications?The only thing I need to know is I was born in Quito, Ecuador. Both my parents are from Ecuadorian descent which in fact makes me Ecuadorian. No matter what situations come across my life. There is nothing I could do that will ever take away the fact, that I indeed am Ecuadorian which in fact makes me Hispanic. I would assume that applies to Black people as well. If you are born black, have roots in black history then you must be Black. I don’t claim ignorance to the social pressures that today’s middle and upper class Hispanic/Black youth face when their racial identity is questioned. It’s hard when you are young and see all these things on TV that emphasizes our stereotypes and wonder why we are not like those people. This is when our parents need to step in and explain to us that being Hispanic or Black is not a lifestyle. It is our race and heritage and regardless of our social and economic status we will always be Black or Hispanic.

  11. good post blacksnob… i definitely concur…i’m disappointed that to some “black” is considered less than…i moved to phoenix to expand my horizons because i felt stifled living in boston, with the same people doing the same things and never wanting to try anything new because it wasn’t “black”…i’ve moved back to boston in september of last year and already feel the rut…that’s not say i don’t enjoy my black people, but there is so much more out there to be enjoyed and i wish my friends would venture just alittle outside their comfort zone…

  12. The issue is not so symplistic to fraction. I have seen some of the reasons we are harassed by this issue is because of sheer ignorance by those of our own and those who owned media (The Whites) who wrote and drew us as they seemed fit for palatable and commerical production. Normal Lear, a Jew, gave us the opportunities to see ourselves but hey, he also made and still makes a killing off of it. We learned that there was Uppity Black Men as the angry George Jefferson in All In The Family but when George moved on up, he got soft and became a baffoon. We learned to simulate these behaviors. George, when living in Queens was a different man. We saw the metamorphorsis of a Strong Black Man turn into a caricature of an appeasing two-faced coward. He would pick on only people he knew he could beat-up and beat-down but he feared Mr. Whittendale. That was such a telling and teaching display that continues to run in reruns showing America and our fellow people how to be: two-faced and cowardly, a fussbucket, selfish, and a bully. I don’t think that is who so many of us had to become but we learned to be that one caricature.We learned how to be over-protective like Weezy and enable the co-dependencies of our fragile men and we learned how to be bullish mean-spirits by watching Florence who had once justifiable reasons to be angry turn into a petty, lazy, and calculating worker. I am just using one example in the media but we learn so much in who we are by emulating what we see.Others feel they are the proprietors of Blackness because they have experienced more that is aligned to our disparing history and our revered heritage. Most younger people are not as BLACK in being connected to the formative culture Pre-Integration but as well Blacks refuse to fortify some centralization to authenticate what is and what is not.Not all Blacks are Black in spirit and feel guilty about it because they know they were raised to not be it. So they over-compensate on acting out fantasy of what they think of most authentic of visual cognition of the act of being Black. That goes with the Black Liberal Guilt that Marcus Mabrey wrote about in White Bucks and Black-Eyed Peas or what Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote about in: there are those who are completely ignorant and are Black. They were raised removed from all culture and heritage so they, in fear of being exposed of all primitive evidence showing, they become the loudest in trying to justify that all of their mix-match, hodge-podge is Blackness. That is what created Hip-Hop and also attributed to the decline of it too. Nothing was fortifying its foundation linked to heritage in a protective way or ritualistic ceremony of culture.But more than anything I see is the shame of Blackness. Blackness has become such a liability that constant evolutions of human progress erases the value of what is not so pretty and heroic about our past as well as we are constantly wanting to become revisionists trying to justify all that is heroic of us. So as we evolve in social progress, we minimize and discourage that which was shameful and not as pretty in comparison to the narratives of the dominant culture. None of these issues we have as a people will be fleshed out and centralized until we centralized in agreement who we are. And who we are can be an amalgamation of many things. It could be the flogging of the undesirable hauntings but we must come together as an organized people to discuss these ever evolving issues that continue to unravel over older issues.I remember when I was an activist and students would contact me for my opinion on some assignment a professor gave on the use of the N’ Word and I would finally just put an announcement on my website that I thought it was lazy and redundant of college educators to keep giving out a 20 plus year assignment asking the perspective as if it was research when evolutions continuous to taint the outcomes of data of the issues. I wanted them to be decisive and stop acting as if it was an eternal democratic issue open for discussion when time continues to ferment the issue when people don’t proactively address the issue with time limits. That can be done democratically but it is not one of those easily feats. It can be done though.I hurt when I hear so many people are or have been harassed by our own but from where I stand a lot of people are not Black Enough and it truly offends me that they were robbed of knowing certain things that are beautiful that have nothing to do with jaded life but of The Beautiful Struggle. I would defend my delicate students that wore more fortunate of things that I or their peers did not have but I opened my students up to a past disconnected of our heritage that our people are no longer interested in valueing unless it as a flat painting of the Old Dirt Road South. They don’t want it live and living as value today unless it is a cultural piece charging admission.It insults me that so many younger people who are Black and are more affluent look down on my heritage as if it is a cultural liability. And then they cry that I cannot defend what is righteous connections to the heritage that made them possible of being here.Until we come together with some organized round-up to flesh out our ideas and our organization (and disorganization), we will continue to transpire in disconnect with these issues continuing to snowball…mostly people of so many people’s shame and their idea to attach to ideas perpetuated by the media’s drawing of themselves. No longer do we have Norman Lear financing our frameworks, we have our own masterminding this disconnect with parents committed to protecting their kids to keep them firmly distanced from what Blackness really is/was.

  13. I know a friend of a friend who knows Josh. He good peoples.Don’t even want to get started on definitions of blackness because what is the definition of ANYTHING? What is the definition of an American? Asian? White? African? People cross so many cultural, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic classes now a days that we all have adopted characteristics of each other.I say let people be people.*in my best black voice* Shots out to your ARKANSAS peeps. ARK stand up!*reverts to white voice cause I am at work*

  14. I am really with you on this post. Blackness shouldn’t have a definition or an accompanying explanation…it’s melanin, damnit!If being Black was about lack of money or hardships…I would have been one of the “more Black” people attending my school. But in the inner city, it was about using slang and profanity, wearing ten inch fingernails (at five years old) and name brand clothes, being as ignorant and uneducated as you could possibly be, while knowing every single lyric to the latest rap songs out. I loved to read. I smiled too much. I had friends of all races. I prayed before I did anything. I listened to Hall and Oates. I got my Black card revoked on my first day of kindergarten, lol.I thought I would fit in better with the college crowd. When I hung out with my line sisters (I loved your post on Greek life by the way-my thoughts exactly) who all grew up upper-middle class, I was shocked that they measured Blackness the same way. They thought it was hilarious that despite growing up in the PJ’s, I didn’t own tims or have a chip on my shoulder. What kind of “Black” person was I? Nevermind that I was fully immersed in an African American Studies concentration and literally pulling myself up from the bootstraps by working 2 jobs to pay my way through college. And if that ain’t Black, I don’t know what is.I listen to smooth jazz, I play softball, I love dogs and drawing smiley faces on everything…take it or leave it. Another side of Blackness. From the ghetto, no less. Who knew?So I think that if we defined Blackness (which we shouldn’t), it should be through our history of hard work and overcoming hardships, but since that definition got thrown under the…oh wait, went hunting with Dick Cheney…we should stop trying to define it at all.You can label the personality of a specific breed of animal, not a race of people. The sooner Black people (and all people) realize that we are not “chattle” we can understand that the complexities of the human mind are what make us human in the first place. We can reason, we have choices, therefore we can arrive at differing conclusions/opinions. On top of varying opinion, people are going to have different experiences and different levels of exposure to things. All of these components surpass sharing the same complexion. So how do we expect any two people to share the same definition of “Blackness” if we are all so obviously different? If I like Tyler Perry that doesn’t make me less Black, or more Black or less educated or more educated. It just makes me, me. When we stop putting ourselves into a box, we can all be free from the stupidity that imprisons us.And I’m glad that homeboy did well at Morehouse. Being valedictorian whether White, Black, Green, Orange, or Purple is a wonderful accomplishment. But yeah, um…keep the shirt on. (Sigh!)This post is definitely on point.

  15. Hey Snob, When I was growing up in Detroit I was called the ultimate black insult, “Oreo” for speaking proper English(i.e. “white”) wanting to join the Navy, liking comics, and many other things that aren’t considered “black”. For the longest time I felt that there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until college, when taking about this to to one of my ministers at my church, that he took my hand, pointed to my skin , and said “this will always make you black.” It was an epiphany. Black people are just like everybody else; we are cool , smart, ignorant, etc., just like everybody else in the world. That set me on the road to not thinking what other people thought of me. Count yourself lucky that you figured it out earlier than I did.

  16. Hi Snob,What is the definition of Blackness? That’s a tuff one. I might say that being Black (in the collective sense) is about having a genetic memory of the atrocities committed against us. I might say being Black is wondering if the police officer/ store clerk/ bank loan officer treated you a certain way because you are Black.But after giving it some thought, even though it’s a little hard to admit, being Black, at least in America has more to do with how we are viewed by others than any actual shared experiences. Is being Black is being the victim of stereotypes of all sorts? Is It having others expect you to behave in the way that they believe you should act? If you listen to the wrong music or speak the wrong way, then is your Blackness is in question?If so then being Black is a pretty fickle thing.The truth, as I see it, is that we, Black people, are simply human beings. We are capable of behaving in anyway humans are capable of behaving. We can like any film or song or style of dress that any other human can like. I learned long ago that the only real identifier of Blackness is that there is none. Monie

  17. As with others, sounds like you’re describing my “boring,” atypical black life word for word. Hehe, instead of listening to Magic 108, I was always on Y98… Anyway, ditto on pretty much all of your post. I’m tired of all of this back and forth crap about “who’s blacker.” My greatest wish is that we all see ourselves and each other as human beings above everything else. But, I dream on. –It’s why, for the most part I remain a loner–life’s too short for these crazy identity games.What really tends to piss me off with regards to this whole “who’s black enough” row, is that unless you’re forsaking yourself and your own personal goals and aspirations to “fight for” or “be down with” some kind of (black) cause, you’re not black enough. –I recently had another blogger tell me, in so many words, that my love for Francesco Biasia bags, cars (MINIs) and other trivial pursuits invalidates my personal interest in reform w-r-t the way we deal with the gloomy statistics about black children and public school education. Long story and I won’t do it here except to say that I’ll do what I can how I can, but hell, these aren’t *MY* kids and I didn’t chose to live the life that led to the existence of many of these kids–as if I must be the one to have to sacrifice for the sake of blackness, and for other people’s bad decisions–and that my interests, prior experiences and actions as a black person are invalid otherwise. Oversimplification of a lot here, sure, and sorry.Back to your post, when I first read about Mr. Packwood, one thing that I found telling was a quote by a classmate that went something to the effect of–Mr. Packwood “raised the bar” for everybody else with what he achieved while he was at Morehouse. My question, of course is then–where the hell was the bar to begin with??? Sigh! I’ll watch Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (love Patrick O’Brien) before you ever catch me watching a mind-numbing Tyler Perry flick… Ilgh! [No offense to those who like Mr. Perry. He’s a good guy, I just don’t like his stuff.]

  18. About Master and Commander, I meant to say that I’ll watch it 100x over (it’s that good) before you ever catch me watching Tyler Perry’s stuff…

  19. Good post.The only person who was ever concerned about my blackness (or lack thereof) was my dad, and that was more about my awareness of black issues/history/politics, etc. Everyday I’m thankful he encouraged me to go to an HBCU where I learned that blackness wasn’t any one thing. All the aesthetics (listening to Rilo Kiley, which I do; cringing at Tyler Perry films) are immaterial.I think blackness is defined by an organic concern for black people, and an interest in the future and well-being of the community.

  20. To piggyback on something Geovanny said. Minority cultures are often defined by what images are preferred by white media consumers. Traditional white Americans have enjoyed everything from minstrel shows to gangsta rap that celebrate the ignorant and see poor black people as the only real black people.(Hence why traditionally racists were made so uncomfortable by educated black people, labeling them “uppity.”)With Latinos, the American consumer enjoys gangster fables, illegal immigrant dramas, “fiery Latinas,” more jokes from Hispanic comics about being broke or crazy.With Asians it’s all about Kung Fu, demure, subservient women, weak or controlling men, bad English and the valley of “slant-eyed” nerds with limp dicks.These are the stereotypes the majority enjoys so those are the ones that show up in film, in music and on stage. Because to the majority culture these caricatures are the “real,” these are the secrets we’re all keeping from them. This is how we really are when “the man” isn’t looking.As for all those hyphenated Americans who dare to live and act like human beings, they are branded fakers. You can’t shoot hoops? You don’t know Karate? You don’t speak Spanish? You’re fucking worthless. The majority thinks these fakers are too “uppity” for not placating their fetishes. How dare they not speak with an accent, know English, be educated, and enjoy many of the same things other affluent, educated Americans love. Those individuals are boring. They want the “real.” They want those jive talking, illegal, gang banging, La Vida Loca Kung Fu Masters of the small penis and the exotic Lucy Liu.Heaven forbid minorities act like just plain folks.

  21. I think that the blackness issue is completely ignorant of our diversity and personal histories as black people. My mother grew up on a plantation in middle georgia bordering on some of the best quail hunting in the South. Her mother was Creek and her father was what we lovingly call a quadroon. Much time was spent with her grandmother who acknowledged her blackness but subordinated it to her whiteness. Thus my mother and her siblings were not allowed to play in the sun, took long baths to scrub the black off and took careful measures to preserve their good hair. Black music like rock and roll and jazz were anathema in her household and she dared her to date (forget marry) a dark-skinned nigger and ruin her life. My mother came to South Florida (before the Latino immigration en masse) and found herself still in the Jim Crow South but out of place with the poor black community, unable to tolerate the wealthy (and snobby) light skinned émigrés from Haiti, Jamaica, etc. and apathetically complacent to the dwindling middle and upper-middle class blacks. She had an extended relationship with a Dutch businessman who had blond hair and blue eyes but eventually settled down with my father. Dad came from an upper middle class black family who lived in the land of suburban manses, golf courses and little league games albeit with a solid core of black professional families. He even had to be bussed with the white kids to integrate a black school. He is unambiguously black with the status-piece cafe au lait mother (she still goes by colored, “not that black business”). Jack and Jill, bglos, etc gave him a solid black consciousness and he loved (and still does) to immerse himself in the urban culture while still staying on the expected path towards a college degree and a white-collar career.So then we arrive at me. I grew up in a picturesque suburb in a city full of racial and economic inequality. My experience was filled with private schools, country clubs, golf lessons, debutante balls, private yachts and the like. Expectedly my reddish brown skin handsomely contrasted against a pastel polo (as the lady in the Ralph Lauren store remarked) usually was the darkest in the room. I couldn’t relate to the handful of black kids at my school (most on scholarship) and was often asked if I was Dominican or Cuban, etc because regular black people obviously didn’t look or act like me. And of course I was branded as a not black black person or an oreo by both black and white.It wasn’t until I came to college and immersed myself in an even less diverse upper class white world that I actually began to really think about blackness and how I fit into that. I started watching some Spike Lee flicks and became addicted to A Different World even getting some of my white friends to join me.While I think it’s ridiculous to try and define blackness, I do think it’s important to have an understanding of what it means to be black, to have a familiarity with black history and culture. It doesn’t mean that you have to like the music of Ms. Holliday or the poems of Mr. Cullen (although I can’t see why not) but to ignore them is to ignore the black contributions to this great nation. It sure as hell ain’t throwing around nigga and watching the minstrelsy on BET. I think it’s important for us as black people to again show the world how diverse and special we are including but beyond singing and dancing and throwing balls around. I love your posts that challenge the status quo so forthrightly and without regard to our little secrets. Keep up the good work and I’ll damn sure be doing my part. Still trying to find my Whitley Gilbert though.

  22. WOW! Great post, I live in a world where I operate both in the hood and in the boardroom. I was raised by a single mother and her family (my grandparents, aunts, and uncles) and occasionally by my father when he was able to or whatever you call it. My father was from a pretty rough part of town but made a way for himself from illegitimate to legitimate and back. Even now my desire to live in the “hood” amongst my people rather than let the white folks gentrify has affected my choice of where I own my home in Houston and where I rent my apartment in Boston. I was smart little girl who was always in gifted and talented programs. My mom’s extended family allowed me to live a middleclass life. I was often called Oreo and wanna be and found out in college, at a very prestigious private university, that the high school black boys never talked to me because they thought I thought I was too good for black people. Which was odd because it was the so far from the truth. I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE ALL OF THEM!I had always embraced my blackness and identified with it and its complex issues once I was able to truly formulate thoughts and opinions about the world. I loved everything about blackness I loved WEB Dubois and Step and Fetch It. I like to watch the Cosby show and Martin Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan and I also loved so many things about the non-black world. I enjoyed Nirvana, Duran Duran, Motley Crew along with LL, Run DMC and New Orleans bounce. Today, I never question my blackness and I am sure others might. I live a life where I want to do “hood rat things” with my friends in between studying for the GMAT and go to HBS and sitting at a Suzan-Lori Parks lecture. And that is who I am. I have learned that who we are goes far beyond color, it transcends gender and even the things that are undeniable fact, like race and gender are really nothing but our minds grasp to confine our limitless form. I think that is why I find black folk who live beyond being black, which means a million different things to a million different people, such a joy to interact with. Actually all folks who live in their soul, I should say, not just black folks who live from their souls. You see my soul isn’t black, white, male, female, good or bad. My soul is me and who I am is who I choose to be. The most liberating thing in life is to learn to do what feels right. I suspect what felt right for Josh was Morehouse and Morehouse apparently agreed by accepting him. I think the media has made a buzz about it because MANY whites believe that HBU means they aren’t welcome, you know kinda how PWI’s usta to do us. I have spent lots of time educating whites that HBU’s are not exclusionary and welcome them to apply just as much as any other high school graduate. However I asked them will they be able to handle life as the minority, I think that’s the real reason whites don’t pour into HBU’s in larger numbers. They are uncomfortable with being minorities. When I got married, the handful of white people from work that were invited to mingle with our (mine and my ex husbands) very large black family, commented on being the handful. So I understand the media hype I don’t think it’s all about the freeing of liberal guilt some is the belief that WE, blacks, wouldn’t let them in kinda thing. Ofcourse he could have went to any university he wanted. There are plenty of Morehouse men who could have went to any school they wanted. To me it the coverage I saw read as look they actually let him attend the school they didn’t try to break him like we did them. I know me and my crazy views, I guess they aren’t black enough either. *lol*Again great post as always! -OG

  23. I’m from Baltimore County Maryland.That makes me a “county girl” which basically means in local black vernacular a spoiled black suburban kid.I absolutely relate to what you and your sister went through.So many kids whose parents brought them out of the city to get away from the violence and poverty they were surrounded by had this pathological need to share in the absolute worst of the culture of the neighborhoods they left behind.There wasn’t much classism in Baltimore County when I went to school because most of the kids just didn’t identify with their new suburban environment.Now I understand this phenomenon. It’s no different than what you see from immigrant children who have a need to connect to some part of their heritage.But where Mexican-American kids try to roll their Rs we do what?We hold up violence, misogyny and anti-intellectualism as if those things do and should define us.I never bought that crap growing up and was ostricized for it.Most of my friends in a mostly black schools were white not because I wanted only white friends as I was accused of but because they were the only people who didn’t act like being smart was some sort of crime.And yeah I listened to rock too.Still do. QOTSA rocks!! :)Lord I could talk forever about the insanity of my middle class black childhood.Blackness to me is the rich culture and history of black Americans not only in this country but the diaspora all around the world which isn’t nearly as limited as we make it if we would only look.

  24. Oh what a post and what a great blog. Snob I can totally related to this post. I am 23 years old, middle class, black woman with two parents that are still married. I am the only child, I loved Janet Jackson as much as Madonna growing up. I love NKOTB, but I knew they were a knock off of New Edition as well as the Jackson 5.I went to a private school until high school and excelled in my studies through out high school and college. I talked differently and many people wanted to call me a Oreo but often times they refrained from doing so because of my chocolate skin tone…lolI’m not going to bore you with my life story just know that I feel you 100% on this. I am so proud o being black, and my souththern roots run so deep I don’t know how I made it here in NY. I took gymnastic classes instead of dance, I was also a girl scout (so was my mom) and my dad is one of my best friends. I grew up learning about Marcus Garvey and Ida B. Wells. I attending the library even Saturday with my mother which is why I love to read still today. I thought I had a unique time growing up because I am from such a small town in upstate NY but as I got out more I learned that there are millions of us out there. Many of my family members thought (think) I am white because I do not agree with them on a lot of things. Even though I never lived in the housing projects my grandmother did so I go to see the other side. I know that black is something that is hard to peg down. But you know it because you feel it.Yes I relax my hair every month and I half and I LOVE the trashy hip hop of Lil Wayne. But there are so many elements of being black that are more than that. Most of the people who call other people “Oreos” are the same people selling drugs to their own kind and only interested in women lighter than a paper bag…I love being a Black American but we have a lot of work to do

  25. I love this post, which was sent to me by a former classmate and friend. She and I both attended a predominantly White liberal arts college in New England–and I went there after attending a white private school on NYC’s upper east side–and your post addresses the complicated issue of “blackness”–or as I’ve often called it, “my negrosity.” What is it to be “black enough” or to “talk White”? Race, as a social construct, can’t be addressed without talking about issues of class, which go hand in hand in my view. Anyway, I could go on a tirade, but I think this post is everything I wish I could say more often.

  26. Definitely enjoyed this post!I agree with SoJo on the whole class thing. I defintely did not have an affluent upbringing, and still can relate to the whole “not being Black enough” thing. I got crap in middle school because I could read, but then got crap from the Black kids in college because I “studied”. Studying meant I went to office hours and won over my professors with my charm. But if working smart makes me unBlack, then so be it.

  27. I totally agree that blackness needs to be redefined and I am here to fight the good fight! As a deseg kid that still didn’t fit into blackness box at school my husband is ecstatic to see a black woman in STL not afraid to be different.The story of my life is doing this outside the realm of “blackness” with people trying to force me to authenticate myself as black. I refuse to do so and will not put myself in a box to appease others. I am a proud black woman, just another example of the diversity of blackness. Keep up the good work!

  28. You did it again Snob.Eight grade my white friend Crissy was so sweet and cool. She even offered to do my science work. But I remember like yesterday when my friend Shai (Shay) asked me “why I was hanging around that white girl?” It never occurred to me that it was unusual; coming from a mixed Christian school environment to predominately black public school I guess that it was different. My best friend in 7th was white…Laurie. I was black, went to an AME church and everything, but I think the black students looked at me as trying to be better or different than them.So of course I dissed Crissy to hangout with the “cool black girls”. Dissed my Armenian friend too. What a loser I am.Like some of the other comments, I wish that I had remained friends with Crissy. Because Shai is now smoking weed and still running in the same circles as when we were in high school…in 1991!!!!!!!!!!!It is like they say, “Everybody with dreads aint down for the cause, and everybody with a perm aint down for the fall”. Blackness is skin color and heritage, but it is also a state of mind. I am proud to be black and open minded. And I think that Packwood is a product of his environment, no more no less. I congratulate him on the valedictorian accomplishment. And since I am a former Clark Atlanta University employee and HBCU alumni, I welcome the additional recruitment that will come from him being a Morehouse man. Have to always think about my community first. (wink)

  29. I am so impressed by this post that you have a new fan. This is indicitive of the black kids of the 80’s that its crazy. We are probably the most diverse people in the world. I love Public Enemy and Gang Starr, but I will kill my wife if she turns from a Duran Duran video. Awsome post.

  30. I pride myself on not being the “ordinary black chick”. My best friend from first grade, to eighth grade was a white girl named Elizabeth Taylor and no, she didn’t have violet eyes. 🙂 Then I broke into ‘white people’s music’ when I got my Sheryl Crow CD. I love my eclectic tastes in music, losing myself in a good book, avoiding Tyler Perry flicks like the plague, boycotting ALL ‘video’ channels, and still having my core friends be white women. Honestly I think that if I became more comfortable with myself, I would turn into a Tempurpedic mattress…lol.

  31. Nikki,Why does that make you so proud? I have had white best friends. But I went to an African Methodist church.In the 80’s everyone listened to the same music. It was Madonna, Duran Duran and the like. One of my top 0 songs is “Get into the Groove”.That does not make me unique or special.I will watch Tyler Perry (all be it not in the theatre) and read Dostoyevsky. I love Toni Morrison and I treasure my Langston Hughes collection and my book of poems by Jewel.That just means I appreciate what is interesting, thought provoking and funny. Why the need to be an a typical black person?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top
%d bloggers like this: