Tag Archives black Americans

Guest Post: My Blackness is Enough

Nearly 200 million people in the world identify as African or African-descended. Like Europeans, Asians and other “racial” groups, our culture, languages and experiences are extremely varied, despite the fact that – especially in the United States – we’re often seen as one large, indistinguishable group.

For my first guest post, I’ve asked Mary from Verily Merrily Mary to share her experiences growing up as a Nigerian-born black woman in North America. I met Mary through a bloggers group and enjoy her thoughtful and absorbing writing. I hope you enjoy it too!

My-Blackness-is-Enough explores the struggle of a Nigerian-born young woman growing up in the United States as she discovers what it means to be black | Guest post by Very Merrily Mary on The Girl Next Door is Black

 

She confided in me about her cross-cultural dilemma. Her trust in my perspective came to light when she explained,

“Cuz, you know, you’re not black.”

Yet I look like this:

Mary from Verily Merrily Mary as seen on The Girl Next Door is Black

Dear readers, I am here to officially announce that my whole life is a lie.

Melodrama aside, I know what she meant; I’m not Black American. Since I originally came from a non-Black American background, she knew that I would empathize with her. She, like me, was a non-Black American who was deeply supportive of her Black American friends and their culture. But to her dismay, they didn’t support her Hispanic culture, refusing to go out to events and dances that celebrated it. It was too different for them, too far from their comfort zone.

I visualized them talking, picturing the look of disappointment on her face when the same gesture of support wasn’t extended to her. If you saw them, you would see that they looked different; she was a lightly-tanned Hispanic girl with long, subtly wavy hair and her Black American friends had kinky, coily curls, one of them light-skinned and the other one dark-skinned.

Say she left and I entered the room to be in the company of the two. Say you had no knowledge my background. Unless you’re one of the select few who are able to pick up on my African features or the Canadianness in my accent, you’d probably think I’m nothing but a Black American.

And then my life story would laugh in your face with one big, “Well on the contrary…”

The abridged version is that I am Nigerian-born, Nigerian-, Canadian-, and American-raised. Prior to my move to the U.S., I lived in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I did my first three years of elementary there and in almost every setting, I was the only black person among my peers.

Nigeria on map of the world from "My Blackness is Enough" on The Girl Next Door is Black
Source

Victoria was most definitely one of the whitest cities in Canada and it showed in my school as my dark skin and my Minnie Mouse ear-shaped pigtails stuck up in their poofy, gravity defying glory. But I was comfortable in childhood innocence, aware of the difference in skin hues and that I was outnumbered, but oblivious to the idea that someone could treat me badly because of it. In Canada, the only identifier I used to mark me as different was “Nigerian.”

Then I moved to America and found out I was also black this whole time.

In South Central Kentucky, I saw more people who looked like me, so much more than I saw in Canada. I was happy and intrigued by this and made an effort to play with the black kids in school. I was in third grade at the time and from then even up till high school in Southern California, I tried my best to fit in.

I made a few black friends; however, most black kids (and a few white kids) whom I interacted with, were suspect to the legitimacy of my black identity. It was as if all knowledge of my Nigerian and Canadian background was erased in their memory after I told them about it. All they could see was a black girl with an American-sounding accent in the context of an American city and they expected me to play the role of the Black American without blinking.

They didn’t realize that Black American culture was something I was brand new to; that the jargon, the music, the mannerisms that I observed to be ways in which fellow Black Americans would greet and bond with one another, were things that I didn’t know off the bat. I had to learn them. As long as I remained unaware and/or did not practice those things (as I did sometimes during my childhood to prevent any uncomfortable scrutiny toward to my identity), I was “white” according to many of those Black American kids (and a few white kids).

Interestingly enough, it was often the white kids who befriended me more than my black peers. While the white kids were mostly inviting, many of my black peers never failed to verbally bully and laugh at me nearly daily. Phrases like “Go back to Africa,” noises mocking my African identity, and putting me on the spot only to publicly harass and humiliate me weren’t exactly heartwarming gestures.

When it came to white people, while there were some who genuinely liked me and my family for who we were, they generally liked my family because of three things:

  • I wasn’t “like those black people”
  • We were African
  • We shared the same Christian faith

As a young child, bitter towards the black kids who treated me horribly, I took my distinction from “those black people” as a compliment. They said I was articulate, that I had class, and I was well behaved. I had white approval and I was content with that though I didn’t realize that white approval is what that was. Finally, people who see my value! Or did they?

The fact of the matter is I had ingested internalized racism and it became one hell of a drug. As many of my black peers bullied me, I mocked them behind their backs, sometimes even in the presence of other white people who laughed along with me. It also happened with a few other black kids who also received the seal of white approval. It was a tragic scene of black people from different lands pitted against each other. The kind of thing that white colonial people would have applauded, except now it was white people in the 21st century.

They say that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Though my Black American peers and I made blackness our abode in beautifully different ways, us black people – often hailed as the originators of civilization – were divided among ourselves to the point where we could not stand together.

Abraham Lincoln once said "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand". | As seen on The Girl Next Door is Black

The other thing that attracted white people to me and my family was our Africanness. Part of it was intrigue. Another part of it was condescension: their assumed idea that we were lowly Africans far removed from anything Western, when the very existence of Nigeria’s borders and the fact that English is Nigeria’s official language are all thanks to Britain. Western culture was forcibly ingrained in our culture thanks to their colonization. Interestingly enough, white people would vocally support me when I would be equally as vocal about my irritation with people’s ignorance with Africans and the African continent. Not so much when racism was the topic at hand, however.

As I got older, that intrigue, – specifically from white men – became lust. A number of them (and a few men of color) were taken not only by my black womanhood but my African one. To them, I was exotic, a possible contender to fulfill their “African Queen” fantasy. Somehow, that was supposed to be consistent with the claim that they “don’t see race.”

When it came to race, I was well aware of white sensitivity to it. As such, I was always tiptoeing when discussing race around white people, making their comfort a priority over confidently speaking my truth. However, I stopped caring about their comfort, as I became more aware of my cross-cultural dilemma, realized there was a name for it, became more self-confident, forced myself to walk into my university’s Black Student Association meeting wanting to no longer be bound by fear due to my horrific experiences in school, and made awesome, substantial friendships with black peers.

I realized that many of the white people I was surrounded by also prioritized their comfort over me effectively speaking my truth. As you would expect, many of my white friendships aren’t as strong as they used to be. I realized afterward that it is probably because many of the ones I was surrounded by were mostly right-leaning in their political stances. Nowadays, those close to me tend to have cross-cultural experiences and/or are people of color.

Nigerian Egusi Soup
Egusi Soup
Source

The bottom line is no matter whom I interact with, no matter how I may come off to them, my blackness is enough. The experiences that shape my black identity – though they stretch beyond the United States – are just as valid. I have been shaped by hip hop culture, by the taste Egusi soup that always brings Nigeria to mind as I eat it here in The States, by the African American Vernacular English that pops out naturally one minute and into Nigerian pidgin the next, by the company of my Black African and Black American friends, as well as by my love of nature and swimming that made for a carefree black girl in Canada. All of this and more has shaped me into the black woman I am today.

As I think of my black brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, in Latin America, in Europe, in other African and Asian countries, as well as in Australia, I am reminded that blackness is everywhere; that “black” does not automatically mean “Black American.” I am only fortunate to have experienced just a little taste of black diversity, so if my blackness is nuanced in any way from how you are accustomed to seeing it, let it be a reminder to you that blackness is not a monolith. My blackness, in all it’s complicated, nuanced glory, is enough.

Verily Merrily Mary Headshot | The Girl Next Door is BlackMary is a Nigerian-Canadian-American third culture kid and immigrant with an overactive mind and an obsession with words. Music, scientific research, dancing, and discussing culture are some of her favorite pastimes. She likes Saturdays.

If you’re interested in more of her work, visit her blog, Verily Merrily Mary. You’ll also find her on Twitter (@verilymary).

 

Friday Five: Weekly Twitter Roundup 5/01/15 – Baltimore Uprising Special Edition

Don’t Be That Insensitive Jackhole

On Sunday, after the Academy Awards, Giuliana Rancic, co-host of E!’s Fashion Police, made a few contentious comments in reference to the locs worn at the ceremony by 18-year old actress/singer Zendaya.

In a previous post, I touched on the complicated relationship many black women have with their hair. I shared that in the present day black women have faced reprimands and job dismissals for daring to wear their hair in natural styles. Giuliana’s language touched a sensitive nerve in many, including Zendaya who responded in an eloquently worded message posted on Instagram.

Many on Twitter objected to Giuliana’s comments with Vine clips of the episode retweeted like crazy. There were also the expected oppositional replies that disregarded Zendaya’s feelings. 

These are the fiery retorts that almost inevitably materialize when someone objects to language steeped in ignorance, bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism or many other -isms.

A quick scan of user photos when I searched Twitter for “Zendaya, sensitive” showed that many of the people instructing Zendaya to “stop crying” aren’t the ones likely to be impacted by negative hair stereotypes. Yet, they think they’re qualified to tell Zendaya how to feel and respond. They haven’t lived her life, but they have all kinds of opinions about it.

Who is anyone else to decide how another person should feel and react to their environment? Who are any of us to tell someone else they are being too sensitive? Why is it often that the folks not directly affected have the most to say about others’ sensitivities?

Giuliana issued a sincere and adult public apology to Zendaya, the type of which we rarely see when a celebrity atones for a public snafu. She accepted responsibility for her words. She referenced listening and learning why her comment offended instead of focusing on her intent and defending herself.

Thinking Allowed Written on Brick Wall from Don't Be That Insensitive JackholeInstead of deriding other people for being too sensitive, we should ask ourselves whether we’re being sensitive enough.

As someone who’s had a lifetime of people telling me that my own feelings and experiences are invalid because they don’t match the narrative of the dominant culture or viewpoint, my skin is pretty damn thick. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t last very long in this America where I am at a disadvantage from the jump just by being in the body of a black woman. A society that tells me that my gender is weaker, too emotional; my hair too nappy, my skin too dark, nose too wide, intelligence limited. To withstand years upon years of ignorance directed my way or anyone else who shares the designation “female” or “black.” A society that tells me I have to act, speak or dress a certain manner just to be respected. If I’m offended by someone coming at me with ignorant nonsense, it’s not because I’m weak. The “strong black woman” stereotype didn’t come from nowhere.

We have to get better at practicing empathy. We have to become comfortable with the idea that we may not always be qualified to speak intelligently on a subject. It’s okay sometimes to stop talking and typing and just listen. To dig deeper and THINK about why someone might be offended. We shouldn’t dismiss other people’s emotions and thoughts as less valid than our own. None of us is better than the other, even those born into royalty, wealth or the dominant ethnic group or gender.

Just because you’re not offended, doesn’t mean another person isn’t and doesn’t have the right to be. Not a one of us is the center of the universe.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?

 

Henry David Thoreau

The Incredible Story I Heard About My Ancestors

This post brought to you by MassMutual. The content and opinions expressed below are that of The Girl Next Door is Black.

Father and Daughter in San Francisco | The Girl Next Door is Black
With my dad in San Francisco years before I moved to the City.

Lately, my dad is prone to falling into reflective reveries during which he shares stories from the past with a forthrightness that is surprising given how miserly he’s been with details previously. He’ll affect what my sisters and I call his “Professor [Our last name]” voice and begin his oration: “You know, Keisha, our family…”

Just last April I learned about the six brothers – including my grandfather several generations removed – who together escaped from the plantation where they were enslaved. Had they not made a run for freedom, an entire family line may never have existed! It awed me to think of the strength and fortitude these men possessed. I’m related to people like that!

Yesterday, I asked my grandmother, who is her late 70s, (she doesn’t look a day over 60 and I told her she could score herself a hot 60-year old boyfriend) about her grandmother, my great-great grandmother. I wanted to know if she could read and write.

A tweet I read a couple of weeks ago reminded me that for some black Americans, they are only the second or third generation of readers in their family! That’s incredible when you think about it. If the idea is that each generation surpasses the one before, boosted by the foundation laid by past generations, not having the basic ability to read and write puts one at an extreme disadvantage.

Grandmother and granddaughter | The Girl Next Door is Black
With my grandma when she came to visit me in Los Angeles a few years ago.

As it turns out, my great-great-grandmother had basic schooling and could read and write on that level. My great-grandmother also knew how to read and write and my grandmother is a retired longtime educator, so reading and writing was her bread and butter.

I’m pleased to join MassMutual in celebrating Black History Month with their #JourneyofYou campaign. Thanks to the family who came before me, my journey is that much less arduous. I strive to live my life in a way that honors their legacy.

 

How has your family helped pave the way for you? How do you honor the legacy of your ancestors? Share the #JourneyofYou in the comments. You can also visit MassMutual on Twitter or MassMutual on Facebook and share your story there using #JourneyofYou.

Watch the video below to learn how MassMutual can help you with building a financial legacy.

Visit Sponsors Site

Seeing Broadway’s First Black Cinderella

Cinderella on Broadway Shop Tees | The Girl Next Door is BlackWhen I heard of Keke Palmer’s casting as the first black Cinderella on Broadway, I didn’t imagine I’d end up seeing the show in person!

It was a girls night out: sisters and groups of friends; an adorable Girl Scout troop of mostly pre-tween and tween black girls and quite a few mother/daughter pairings attended. One little girl dressed like a little lady wearing pearls and donning an updo, accompanied by her very chic and sophisticated mother who wore an enviable black cape, melted my heart. I attend a lot of plays and as I snarked to my sister, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many black people at a play in my life” [Chitlin’ circuit excluded]. I’m so used to being one of few. Even when I saw Porgy and Bess recently, whose cast is majority black, my friend and I were two of a countable number of black people in attendance. I found the audience diversity refreshing.

Keke Palmer delighted as Cinderella. To think that she’s only 21 and has already accomplished so much in her life. Her talent seems boundless.

Sherri Shepherd starred as Cinderella’s mean stepmother. I have had mixed feelings for Sherri in the past. I attended the same acting school she did, years after she moved on, and as one of the school’s success stories, Sherri was often a topic of conversation. It was her stint on The View that soured me though (“I don’t know if the earth is flat” anyone?). I wasn’t sure what to expect from her performance. I’m happy to share that she played the hell out of her character – a hilariously wicked stepmother. I enjoyed ever minute she spent onstage.

The show itself was wonderfully produced, surprisingly funny, and even magical at times. They pulled off the fastest, most seamless costume changes I’ve ever witnessed. After the show, I hustled my sister to the side stage door to wait for the cast to come out and sign autographs.

Both Keke and Sherri braved the chill to take photos with and sign autographs for each and every fan waiting. Impressively, Sherri listened patiently as one fan tried to promote her singing talent to Sherri. Even though the woman had no demo, no videos of her performing or even business cards, Sherri gave her helpful tips for building a foundation for a singing career – even though as she said, “I can’t really do anything for you. I don’t have those connections.” That really endeared her to me.

After our successful celebrity encounters, we headed to Junior’s for a late post-show dinner and to relive our fantastic evening over cheesecake.

With Keke Palmer After Broadway Show | The Girl Next Door is Black
Keke is the sweetest. She told my sister (who is around the same age, has loved her since ‘True Jackson, VP’ and thinks of her as her “best friend in her head”) that she loved her lipstick and asked her where she got it. Then she told us we were “beautiful girls.” Aw, Keke.
Meeting Sherri Shepherd on Broadway | The Girl Next Door is Black
Sherri is so kind and patient with the crowd. She looked much slimmer too; whatever she’s doing is working for her!

 

What the Hell is Going On in Ferguson, MO?

I’ve been glued to Twitter the past few days.

Twitter is how I first heard of the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black, 18-year old, Ferguson, Missouri resident, shot multiple times and killed by a police officer. Yet another “shoot first, ask questions and apologize later” incident. Yet another unarmed black American killed. Another life taken too soon, a child snatched from his devastated parents who surely didn’t expect to have to bury their own son, the people whom are supposed to protect and serve their fellow citizens seeming more and more like the aggressor, the opposition. And still no answers. We still don’t know who shot and killed him as the police department won’t release the name of the shooter. Anonymous has other ideas though.

After days of escalating anger, violence, rumors and unrest, traditional mainstream media appeared largely to ignore it (MSNBC and The Washington Post, notable exceptions). This morning I awoke to hear my local San Francisco news station covering the eruption last night, followed by “Breaking News” from “The Today Show” about last night’s events, photos and videos resembling what Americans are accustomed to seeing in “those other countries” where war seem constant. “Breaking News?” This shit started going down days ago!

The milita---er, the police in Ferguson, MO Photo cr:
The milita—er…the police in Ferguson, MO
Photo cr: @theroot, Twitter

I know, I know…many stories are vying for our collective attention: the Ebola outbreak, the violence in Iraq, IS(IS), the Ukraine, the deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, Syria, Gaza and the everyday ills of the world. But what happened and is happening in Ferguson and elsewhere in the US is important too. I’ve written about how I sometimes feel black Americans are still treated as second class citizens, the scourge of the US; how our voices too often go unheard, cries of racism dismissed with cavalier statements, “Stop playing the race card,” “Don’t be such a victim,” “You’re being racist [by recognizing racism exists],” or “Blacks needs to stop blaming whites for their problems! Take responsibility!”  I’m so tired of having to explain to people that racism is still very much embedded in the soil of this country when evidence is right in our faces daily.

Yet, America largely still turns a blind eye when black people are suspiciously killed. Are our lives less valuable than those of other Americans, those with paler skin hues? Why is it that when a black American is killed, people want to play respectability politics? “Well, he was wearing a hoodie.” “He dressed like a thug!” “He threw up peace gang signs!” “She had alcohol in her system.” “He was carrying Skittles!” As if any of this justifies ending someone’s life. Discrediting the statements of eyewitnesses because they don’t speak perfect Standard American English.

I am angry. I am sad. I am tired. I am extremely bothered, but unsurprised that it seems it wasn’t until white people started getting hurt that the mainstream media woke up and decided to do their jobs.

I have so much more to say, but many others have already said so much, so eloquently.

If you want to stay up to date on the events as they unfold, or catch up on what you may have missed, here are a few of the articles I’ve found informative:
Momentum builds against police presence in Ferguson – 8/11/14, (updated 8/14), Vox
* Anonymous’ “Op Ferguson” Says It Will ID the Officer Who Killed Michael Brown – 8/12/14 (updated 8/14), MotherJones
* Two Journalists Reportedly Arrested Without Cause, Assaulted in Ferguson – 8/13/14, Gawker
* The Death of Michael Brown Racial History Behind the Ferguson Protests – 8/12/14, The New York Times
* This is Why We’re Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown – 8/11/14, Jezebel

Some folks on Twitter who’ve been doing some real work raising awareness and reporting on the story:

* Elon James White – On the ground in Ferguson; CEO & Writer, This Week in Blackness
* Feminista Jones – Instrumental in organizing tonight’s National Moment of Silence in honor of those victimized by police brutality; Writer, Contributor to Salon, HuffPost

National Moment of Silence, 2014 Photo cr: @thetrudz, Twitter
National Moment of Silence, 2014
Photo cr: @thetrudz, Twitter

* Jonathan Capeheart – Opinion writer for The Washington Post
Jamelle Bouie – Writer for Slate

Howard University students show their support for the citizens of Ferguson, MO. Photo cr: HowardU, Twitter
Howard University students show their support for the citizens of Ferguson, MO.
Photo cr: HowardU, Twitter