I can recall an incident that took place my freshman year of college almost 4 years ago. I was passing a group of some of my peers and acquaintances in the Student Center when one of them called me over. We engaged in a brief conversation about school and class work, but then she said something to me in the language of slang. I don’t remember what the phrase was, but I didn’t know what she was saying. When I asked her to explain what she meant, she responded, “How do you not know what that means? You’re Black, you’re supposed to know what it means! I know what it means – I’m Blacker than you!” “Blacker than me?!” What the crud does that mean? I replied to her, “I’m pretty sure if I put my arm next to yours, mine will show up the darker one because I’m the Blacker one!”
Seriously, I’m supposed to be familiar with the language that is modern slang simply because I’m Black? I thought that being Black had to do with the color of my skin; the fabric that makes up my DNA; who my family is; the culture and heritage I come from. You mean to tell me that it’s based on what I do or don’t know?
Of course, the characteristics of a “Black” person do not stop there. No, it is also in how you look, what you do, and how you talk. If you’re wearing khakis and a sweater vest over a collared shirt, you’re not considered “Black.” However, if your attire consists of large pants that fit under one’s bottom with revealing underwear, and a long white T-Shirt or a grey or black hoodie, you are considered “Black.” If you’re an astronaut, a swimmer, or a zoologist, you are not considered “Black.” However, if you’re a rapper, musician, or athlete, you are considered “Black.” You would not be considered “Black” if you were to say something like, “This movie did not phase me at all. There was no urgency to the plot; why was this happening, why did it matter? The editing was obnoxious – the film cut to frames when it was unnecessary, and when it was necessary, it held on the same frame. The acting was bad: the performers were not engaging, and their deliveries were awkward. The movie was an great disappointment.” However, if one were to say, “That movie was as f#%&” or “That movie was s*@#,” they would be considered “Black.”
These are just a few of the insulting, patronizing stereotypes that I as an African-American am required to live up to. There’s also: Black people don’t swim; Black people don’t listen to or sing country music; Black people don’t eat mayonnaise; Black people do eat fried chicken and watermelon; Black people run fast; Black people jump high; Black people rap; Black people are loud; Black people are late; Black people can dance…and so many others.
Now, I have to ask the question: I am not the only one who has a problem with this, am I? Honestly, please tell me that I am not the only one who sees the problem in this. Do you have any idea the negative impact that this has on our society and culture? People throughout this country – throughout the world – have a certain idea of what African-Americans are like. A couple of years ago, I met a young lady at my school from an Asian country. It didn’t take long for us to become buddies, but I remember one of the first things we discussed. Sitting down for lunch, we said we wanted to learn about each others culture. I asked her to teach me some words and phrases from her first language. She told me she wanted to learn the modern way Americans speak. She said, “I want to learn how to talk Black.” Yes, people all over the world believe that African-Americans speak a certain way? We are being prejudged before we even get a chance to show who we are. Rather than being allowed to be unique individuals, we’re expected to all behave and speak the same.
What is so strange about this to me, however, is that White, Yellow, Brown, and Red people are not the only people who believe in these stereotypes. They don’t even enforce them. No, Black people believe in these patronizing, gut-wrenching, insulting stereotypes about their own people and culture as well! We as African-Americans, who take so much pride in being unique and different, often say “You’re not Black,” “Stop acting your color,” or “You talk like a White girl.” How in the world is that possible? We, who fought for years and years against oppression and segregation, are now oppressing ourselves? If anyone should know that African-Americans are a diverse people because our experiences, interests, and talents are not all the same, you’d think it’d be African-Americans! By enforcing this stereotype on the world, we limit both our opportunities and chances, as well as the world’s perspective on, not just African-Americans, but people as a whole. If all African-Americans behave a certain way, truly other demographics have distinct characteristics and stereotypes that they all abide to as well.
Think about it like this: what with Independence Day coming, the 238th birthday of the United States of America, what are we really celebrating? Beyond the fireworks and barbeques, what is the heart of the holiday? We’re celebrating our freedom. We are free to believe what we want, live where we want, love how we want, say what we want, do what we want – because 239 years ago, Americans didn’t have that right. Shouldn’t that mean we’re free to be who we want? I am not talented when it comes to the world of athletics, God did not give me that gift. Should I force myself to be the best ball player known to man so that I can prove that I am “Black?” Should I try to become a better rapper or begin wearing my pants down to my thighs to prove that I am “Black?” Doesn’t that go against the familiar moral we’ve heard over and over again, “be yourself,” “be true to who you are?” If I were to try to fit into this false belief of what being “Black” is, I’d be enslaving myself into a stereotype. The last time I checked, slavery in the USA was abolished over 151 years ago, and the great heroes of this nation did not fight so that I would be enslaved too. I’m not going to let ANYBODY, including myself, enslave me into being a stereotype. It is 2014, people! I will be free to be me!
Does this mean I am ashamed of being Black? Not at all! I love my skin! I love my heritage! I wouldn’t want to be anything else! However, my Blackness comes from my knowledge and acceptance of what my ancestors had to experience so that I could be where I am today. Does it guide some of my actions? Yes. I more than often sit in the front row, remembering that we didn’t have that option 60 years ago. I vote nearly every chance I get, remembering that I would not be able to if it weren’t for those who fought for this right. I make it a point to, not just to learn as many facts about Black History as possible, but to educate others with these facts as well.
While I do pride myself in my African-American heritage, I don’t let the color of my skin define who I am. What do I mean by that? I am my own person. My characteristics and personality all have to do with who I am, not the stereotypes that our society and culture love to enforce upon us. I love chicken, preferably fried – it’s one of my favorite foods. I can’t swim. Country music does not really phase me that much. I can often be a very loud person, especially when I’m voicing my strong opinions about a particular subject. Do these qualities have to do with my being Black? No, they have nothing to do with that. They have everything to do with me being Bro. B.I.B. I also can’t dance. Whenever I write anything – whether it be a poem, script, song, text message, Facebook post, note, and especially a paper – I use proper grammar and correct English. I wear sweater vests. I enjoy mayonnaise, and I do not like hot sauce or watermelon. I hate being late, so I arrive to my meetings and events at least 5 minutes early. I can’t dance. While I enjoy the hip-hop/rap genre, I hate listening to modern rappers because of the image and messages they convey. In fact, I don’t really listen to a lot of popular modern music artists; current pop music goes over my head (that’s another post for another time). Does any of this make me any less Black than my skin color and heritage would let on? No at all! These characteristics and qualities do not have anything to do with me being Black; they have everything to do with me being me.
In closing, stereotypes are played out, unnecessary, unwanted, and detrimental to our culture. What is the benefit of keeping them around and enforcing them? Rather than giving people a false impression of everyday, hardworking, relatable human beings, simply because of their differences, what say we view and show everyone as the individuals we all really are? Simply because we may share the same skin color, gender, religion, orientation, size, social/economic class, or disability as another person, that doesn’t mean we’ll behave the same way; we’re still different people with different experiences and upbringings. When you see me, don’t expect me to “act ‘Black,'” but expect me to behave as Bro. B.I.B. That’s the only way I know to behave, and that’s the only way I will behave.