Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Parameters of Blackness: Too Black vs. Not Black Enough . . .

I bet I'm not the only one who has ever wondered what makes something or someone too Black as apposed to not Black enough. Come on, don't act like y'all don't know what I'm talking about? Okay, wait . . . does the use of a word like y'all mark me as Black? Southern? Ignorant and uneducated? Are any (or perhaps, all) of the aforementioned synonymous? In some people's book, apparently so.

Okay, so what if I make a practice of always speaking and writing in grammatically correct English. Will it have an impact on my DNA? The melanin in my skin? My cultural identity? Will it somehow make me less Black?

One of my best friends, a woman who has known me since my freshman year in college has this peculiar habit of laughing at something I've said and then telling me, "Girl, you so Black!" Hmm, so what exactly does that mean? And when compared to whom, I wonder?

Every few years, I have this habit of giving my hair a break from chemical relaxers and wearing my tresses au natural. In case you're wondering, yes, I am currently in the middle of one of those stages. But I've long been fascinated by what other Black folks read into both this practice as well as the appearance of my hair in its natural, unrelaxed and unstraightened state.

I remember being in a conversation with a co-worker once and her making a comment that I'm sure a number of Black & White folks alike would have deemed politically incorrect. After making the remark, my co-worker looked over at me (and my naturally nappy head) and said something along the lines of, "I guess that means my Black card is gonna have to be revoked, huh?" I grinned back at her and said, "What? Did you miss the memo? Naw girl, see, I'm not even in charge of that this year."

The truly funny thing is--just as soon as somebody labels me "too Black" for one reason or another, someone else is quick to step forward and suggest I'm somehow not quite Black enough.

I never will forget the time I was talking and laughing with one of my Black male co-workers when he up and said, "You must be married to a White guy." I was like, "What? Huh? Where in the heck did that come from?" By the same token, my spouse (who is indeed, very much an African American man) tells me his co-workers (the ones who've never met or seen me in person) are in the habit of assuming he's married to a White woman.

Okay, so obviously, I'm in a no win situation here (LOL). But you know what I've decided? Just as folks have a God-given right to think whatever the hell they please about me and mine, as long as I know who the hell I am, it's all good (smile).

Still, I'd very much like to know from all of those who have deemed themselves the arbitrators of such--what sorts of things define Blackness? I'm saying, is there like a list or something? If so, what sorts of things are on it?

--Whether or not one can get down with a plate of collard greens and neckbones?

--Whether or not one grew up in the ghetto, in the projects or in the hood drinking red Kool-Aid and eating fried bologna sandwiches?

--Being able to rap, dance, carry a tune, play Bid-Whist and sing Old Negro spirituals?

--Belonging to a church where folks shout and speak in tongues?

--Being sexually promiscuous? Being athletically gifted?

--Wearing locs? Braids? Sagging pants?

--Having any (or all) of the following in your immediate family--a crack head, a pimp, a gang-banger, a stripper, a two-bit ho . . .

--Being loud, ill-mannered, always ready to fight and or cuss somebody out?

--Being a high school drop-out? Having a criminal record? Being on welfare? Having five children by five different partners?

Do any (or all) of the aforementioned fit into your definition of Blackness? If so, why? If someone who wasn't Black described African Americans exclusively in those terms would you or would you not be offended? Is there a difference between embracing a positive stereotype and embracing a negative one? What qualifies one to decide who's too Black and who isn't quite Black enough?

To Be Continued . . .

But feel free to comment now, if you'd like (smile).


Malcolm said...

It bothers me when people play the Black police and feel that they can judge what is/isn't Black. I have always been of the mindset not to limit myself in the movies, music, TV shows, etc. that I sample. I look forward to your next installment on this topic.

Lori said...

Yes, the Black police (smile) or act as if they have the power and authority to actually boot someone out of the race (LOL).

Sharon J said...

Great editorial! I call it being on the Soul Patrol. It's very aggrevating to encounter people with such narrow definitions of what it means to be black. Who makes up these rules?

Lori said...

"Soul Patrol" indeed! I may have to borrow that one from you (smile). I'm not sure who these folks are, the ones who come up with these narrow-a$$ defintions, but I'd love to be invited to their next meeting (LOL).

Mocha Dad said...

Black people are a varied group. We cannot be defined or lumped into a single stereotype. That's what makes us so uniquely fabulous.

pjazzypar said...

Lori, I consider myself a professional woman. Why should my hairstyle negate that fact? I wore an afro (natural) until it went out of style in the 60 and 70's. I have had fulla waves (the style that introduced the wave cap), jheri curls, and of course it has been fried, dyed and laid to the side (lol). I have been wearing my hair locked for the past thirteen years and it is the best hair decision I ever made. I find that Black folks are more concerned with my hair, which is neat, clean, and well conditioned, than White folks.

I have been around long enough to know that a crack head, a pimp, a gang-banger, a stripper, a two-bit ho, as you so eloquently put it, is not exclusive to Black people. You can find these attributes, as well as the others you mentioned among the white, brown, yellow, and red people of the world (with the exception of the fried bologna).

Back to hair, I am, as my best friend's license plate says "Nappy4Life".

Lori said...

@Mocha Dad,
Thanks for dropping by. I agree, we are more than a collection of sterotypes . . . now if only the literature, music, movies and tv shows being mass produced and shoved down all of our throats would reflect as much (smile).

A "Nappy4Life" license plate, hey, I want me one of those! (Actually, I'm not quite there yet, but I'm certain I will be one day soon). As far as naturals are concerned, I personally don't think they ever go out of style. (Yes, I will still rock one in a heartbeat). To me, it's all about how you wear it or how you choose to do you. The same goes for locs.

Really, if folks are to be honest, none of the items on the list are exclusive to Blk folks. I've seen White folks & Asians with locs, sagging pants, etc. I'm sure there are even some White folks who enjoy fried bologna sandwiches (smile).

If we are to be honest, a lot of those things I opted to include on the list are born of poverty, exposure (or lack thereof), locale, conscious choice, youth, ignorance, desperation and other such factors.