I got home sometime in the middle of Obama's State of the Union address. I don't remember what comment sparked my reaction, but he said something so ridiculous that I rolled my eyes and said to myself "Nigga, please." In perhaps not the wisest decision of my life, I posted said quote to Twitter and Facebook.
The first few comments took it for what it was--a light-hearted jab at the president. (Though my self-styled "Obamacrat" cousin thought it was just generally funny until she realized I was commenting on the SOTU, she immediately understood there isn't any animosity behind the comment.) Later, however, a high school friend of mine wrote:
Nothing like a comment about face-punching to get the blood flowing.
I rhetorically asked my friend if my skin were darker, would said violence still be imminent. He responded that, indeed, it would not.
This brings me to the heart of the matter: how does one define "blackness"? My father is black. My mother was white. As I have mentioned here before, I could "pass" for white if I so chose. I am aware that some people don't consider me "black" by their standards, and usually I just chalk that up to their own ignorance or prejudice, but given that about 1000 people have access to my facebook page, I thought I should clarify.
I take my race and ethnicity very seriously. I grew up with black family and black friends. No more than four familial generations ago, that family was owned by white people in Meridian, Mississippi. My father grew up in the Great Depression in Indiana--a state literally run by the Klan at the time. I have heard stories about how my grandfather, James (1883-1937), would grab his gun and go outside to get all the children in the house because the Klan was about to march up the street they lived on--one of the three streets or so blacks were allowed to live on in Fort Wayne at that time. My father and my family had to endure racism most of us today can hardly fathom--and I grew up acutely aware of this. I knew I had opportunities that my father never had, and I have always been grateful for how much he went through and how much he sacrificed so I and my siblings could become successful people.
When I was very young, my father told me, (paraphrasing), "Because of who you are, or what you are [read: black]--you may have a harder time than other [read: white] people. Deal with it, and move on." It was the 1980s and my first school district was still trying to implement desegregation plans--and we were still interchangeably called "Negro,""black," or "Afro-American." Our race used to be listed next to our names on our attendance sheets in my second school system. America was much less tolerant than it is today just 20-25 years ago. Thus, despite my white appearance and diction, it was not out of the question that my blackness would be some sort of hindrance or disadvantage to me down the line, either personally or professionally.
And, personally--though I have no intention of going into it here--it has been. But I deal with it, and move on.
Keeping all this in mind, I will NEVER accept some sort of 'not black enough' tripe from anyone, white or black. We, as black people, have different experiences that make us who we are. These differences are related to skin tone, hair, what part of the country we grew up in or whether we lived in the country, the city or the burbs. There is no singular "black" experience and only an arrogant fool would attempt to definitively characterize another man as not black enough.
We can have a debate about whether or not black people should use the term "nigga" or "nigger." Richard Pryor used it for years and then decided, after a trip to Africa, he never wanted to use the term again because he thought it was demeaning. Some others believe that it is empowering to use the term--to reclaim it, in a way. (I don't buy that, but if that's your thing, then so be it.) Chris Rock uses it for effect in his acts; Katt Williams uses it as a matter of pride. The common thread, of course, is that many of us grew up using it and it's part of who we are. We can choose to use it now, or we can choose not to. And we can disagree about whether we should or should not. And perhaps I shouldn't have posted it on facebook because those who are not close to me may take it the wrong way. But I did it, and I make no apologies for it.
To those who may have been offended by it: you don't have to approve of it--and I'm not asking you to. But don't, for one minute, think your skin tone makes you more 'legitimately black' than I am.
"But I will tell you that, without any question, the most bitter anti-white diatribes that I have ever heard have come from "passing" Negroes, living as whites, among whites, exposed every day to what white people say among themselves regarding Negroes -- things that a recognized Negro never would hear." -Malcolm XIf I'd be black enough for Malcolm X, I'm pretty sure I'm black enough for you.
Don't make me show my color.