Sometimes, I feel like I’m playing a perpetual game of “You Know How I Know [I’m] Black?” and losing.
I know it’s problematic. I know there is no true rubric by which to define Blackness and there are no behaviors, vocal inflections, or dietary or pop cultural preferences that “belong” to any racial group.
But try telling me that when I call to place an order at Sandmann’s, the (only) local soul food place in Grand Rapids. My heart palpitates the whole time, for fear that my pronunciation of black-eyed peas (with a hard -ed) will revoke my Black card and then, I’ll be stuck eating someplace really culturally nondescript. Like a TGI Fridays.
Sandmann’s isn’t the only establishment that triggers my racial-acceptance-related paranoia. I also keep my head down at the beauty salon because I don’t want the women with the fingerwaves and rhinestoned acrylics judging me by my hair’s length or lack of “adventure” (just relaxer, no dyes, no gels, no ‘fro/locs/braids) and deducing that I think I’m “better” than they. I worry, whenever I go back to the storefront church where I grew up, that the congregation will take one look at me and somehow assume that I live in the gentrified part of downtown. (I don’t, by the way.)
You Know How I Know I’m Black? I often want to declare at random. I’ve seen Rosewood.
I’m ridiculous, I know. But I have it on good authority that worrying about whether or not Your Own will accept you (or that some musical preference will indict you as a raging assimilationist) is an inherently PostBourgie state. Being bourgie places you within one or more decidedly Black environs on a regular basis. You’re a member of a “Black Church.” You’re a Jack. Or Jill. Your mom’s in the Links. You still keep in touch with your co- or beau-tillion cohort. Your fam vacations at Martha’s Vineyard, like in Inkwell. You agree with Bill Cosby… or credit his ’80s sitcom with your life’s successes.
But being PostBourgie means having stepped to the left of those constructs. It means you no longer buy into the idea that all-Black social groups are inherently identity-affirming.
Even so, this sidestep doesn’t mean you won’t long to have your racial identity affirmed. As you broaden your interests and start saying stuff like, “Who’s Li’l Wayne?” or “I never liked Martin,” you find yourself feeling more and more alienated from Your Own.
You Know How I Know I’m Black? you want to shout. I still think Dwayne Wayne was kinda hot, circa his Konichiwa internship era.
I won’t pretend it’s not weird to be Black—obviously Black, skin brown as pecan-shells Black—and not feel socially accepted by Blacks… because you don’t believe you’re Black enough. But I also can’t pretend that I’m the only person who’s ever experienced this kind of social displacement.
So consider this the initial article of an ongoing column, wherein our contributors share their tales of racial-acceptance-related paranoia for your amusement and dissection.