My initial way of describing someone considered “black” was going to be based on having a certain amount of melanin in your skin. But... there are plenty of people with melanin in their skin that you wouldn’t consider to be “black” as we use the word in America. Plus, skin color isn’t the only factor that determines if someone is black. There really isn’t a specific definition for black, which brings me to the purpose of this blog… there is no certain test that qualifies you as being black.
You know how to swim? That’s a great skill to have!
Rap isn’t your favorite genre? Perfectly fine.
Love camping? I don’t but you do you boo.
In Issa Rae’s book The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, she discusses how we as black people buy into the stereotypes the world has formed about us. You know...
That our hair isn’t “good” unless it is in perfect curls.
That black people can’t swim.
That we love watermelon and fried chicken.
That black people are loud and angry.
That we don’t speak properly and are not intelligent.
SOOOOO….what have we learned today? You can’t be vegan, know how to swim, love to read, speak properly, AND BE BLACK… it’s impossible. Even if your skin is black then maybe you are just an Oreo… white on the inside and black on the outside. Whatchu mean you don’t know who Martin is! So you aren’t reallyyyy black.
This is legitimately what we say and do to each other. Who was the person that decided we should agree with and go along with some of these negative stereotypes? Who decided that we should make our fellow brothers and sisters feel bad about themselves for not possessing these traits? And again... why did we agree to do this? Who made us judge and jury to disqualify others from being a part of our race if they don’t fit into the stereotypes society created or our definition of black?
I will admit that I have disqualified someone’s blackness before. Even if I didn’t say it out loud, the thought was there. These thoughts and comments make people question their blackness and their identity. So if we can agree that this is an issue. What can we do to change?
1. Change your thoughts.
I believe the first step to changing most habits is with your thoughts. Have y’all heard the quote, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Where did our actions, habits, and ultimately character all start? Our thoughts. If you catch yourself thinking or saying things similar to above, correct it in the moment. At first you may not even notice these comments until you have said it, but at least you are becoming aware of them. Over time, you’ll be able to catch yourself before you say it, then mid thought, then before you think it, and eventually those consistent corrections will no longer be needed. But this takes a lot of time, dedication, and intentionality.
2. Expose yourself to more people.
Maybe where you are from all the black people are a certain way, but not everyone grew up in that environment with the same friends, parents, and community as you. As you begin to meet more black people you’ll see how different we really are and your definition of black will begin to expand.
3. Try your best to address comments that discredit others’ blackness.
For example, if people are saying “she is black, but not really” or “he's not black enough”. These are things I have heard and I know are said about people who don’t fit into the stereotypes about black people. How will this person learn if no one ever initiates a conversation about their comments? Some people haven’t realized an issue with those statements, so you can try to help by exposing them to your perspective on why saying those things is inaccurate and unproductive.
Ultimately, change is never easy but it's your effort that is most important. I will leave us (including me) with this goal. The next time we are talking to someone who is black, but doesn’t fulfill our view of a black person, don’t disqualify their blackness!