Four Things People Say When "You're Not Black Enough"
My father was White, but I was raised in a large Black family.
Disclaimer: I enjoy light skinned privilege. Recognizing that context is important.
For most of my life I couldn’t identify racism, not because it didn’t affect me, but because on a daily basis, the majority of it was different than what my darker skinned family members experienced. That said, I've been pulled over for no reason, jumped by local Neo-Nazis, cuffed while walking home from work and thrown in the back of a squad car because I "fit the description."
But apparently I'm not Black enough.
Here are four things people say when they believe you're not Black enough:
“I never knew you were half Black”
Seems innocent enough, but never in the history of North American culture has someone said that without a noticeable change in their tone of voice: relief, surprise, trepidation or outright anger. It's the point of no return; it’s a social event horizon. They didn’t mean any harm, sure, but right away the dynamic between us changes. I become the window for them to peer into Black culture without having to approach it too closely. And then the Q&A begins. Each question measures how Black I am, and by that same definition, how White I am. The magic marker appears and they assume the role of defining my place on a racial spectrum. They establish where the line for censorship should exist and how they should edit themselves around me.
In rare cases someone won’t define me. I end up referring to those people as friends.
“I haven’t ever done anything to offend you, right?”
No one says this until they're aware of my heritage. I assure them that they haven’t. But if you must worry that you are casually contributing to actions that could very well be interpreted as racist then why is my ancestry your catalyst for change? Try explaining this to someone without them immediately being offended and believing that you have identified them as a Racist. If you succeed, then bottle and sell whatever it is that got you there. It will sell out quicker than Fenty Beauty by Rihanna.
If they haven’t already, they’re now silently answering the questions: “How White is he? How Black is he?”
“I just don’t think of you as being Black”
The odd time they check themselves before completely wrecking themselves, they add, “I just don’t see race.”
My culture does play some part in shaping who I am. I am afforded a unique perspective on society just as others from different cultures. Yet my race and culture don't define who I am. This is important.
“I just don’t think of you as being White” has never has been said to me and quite simply this is because most people have defined me through a specific social lens, one that identifies me as White. Their tone is always one of surprise, followed by reassurance. Being White to them is the cultural norm and finding out I am Black is a deviation from that norm. They have their own idea of what someone who is Black should be, and reassuring me that I do not fit that stereotype and that I am still welcome is nothing short of racial discrimination, even if it is subconscious.
“But you haven’t had to deal with real racism at least”
I’ve never had anyone apologize for all the fake racism I must have experienced, but I hear this often enough. Assuming to know what I have experienced as a mixed person is a tremendous insult. It delivers a message invalidating my identity, my experiences, and struggles. Taking ownership of someone's personal experiences is a tool when you manipulate and continuously redefine that person’s identity and their oppression to suit you.
One day I can be Black enough to offer just the right insight on intersectional racial inequality and, more importantly, if MF Doom really runs circles around Kanye. The next day, I’m not Black enough to have experienced racial discrimination or lend my voice as a minority in a discussion about race. Basically I'm a social accessory, a wingman to show how woke everyone else is.