Styles P proclaimed it in his 2006 song “I’m Black” and James Brown shouted it out in his 1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Both clarify how I feel these days. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I wasn’t always proud to be black, much to my parents’ chagrin.
I was probably blackest in my middle school years when I wore my hair in a tilt, rocked gold earrings with my initials—C in the top hole and J in the bottom, donned my black Hammer pants with electric blue bolero jacket and topped it all off with my patent leather pointy shoes with grosgrain ribbon shoelaces. You couldn’t tell me nothin’! I wore my Kwame-inspired blue dress with with black polka dots for my 8th grade school picture, while all the other girls wore white. I was being myself and while there were a few times I tried to assimilate, it was mostly because I wanted to be a popular girl like the ones in a John Hughes movie, like Sixteen Candles. I can’t think of one teen movie with a cool black girl main character back in the late 80s and I could be wrong but nothing comes to mind…
Anyway I begged Dolores (Mom) to let me go to Aberdeen high school where I would very likely have a boyfriend—and in her opinion—a baby. I didn’t care. I wanted to be a teenage mother with a cute figure pushing my baby stroller. Now I realize how ridiculous I was. I clung to my blackness freshman year at John Carroll School, a Catholic college prep high school. Dolores got her wish for me to go to private school. Now I can understand the decisions she made. I was a little hot to trot if you get my drift and she was not having it. I maintained my autonomy but my sophomore year it was like I just assimilated into white culture. Here I felt my blackness but not in a cool way. I stopped rocking my asymmetrical dos and eventually got rid of my gold initial earrings. I started wearing delicate earrings and combing my hair back into a bun and trying to look like the girls around me. Even worse I just straight up lost myself for a few years as I sought to be down with the popular Polo shirt and socks-wearing, bow and ringlet curl-having, Timberland shoe-rocking, field hockey and soccer-playing crew. These chicks had Gucci watches and cars, ski vacations in the winter and beach houses in the summer.
All of a sudden I wasn’t proud to be black. I didn’t share this info with the parentals, I just kept it to myself and dimmed my black shine bit by bit. Nobody asked me to, but nobody was interested in my black self either. I’d party with my all white crew on the weekends frequently worrying if someone’s parents would give me the side eye. Luckily I never had a run-in with any parents. But I noticed that while I always showed up to all of my friends’ events and typically was the only black person, I assumed they would never want to be the only white person in a room full of black folks. I had one friend visit me at work and I could tell that the sight of mostly black people made her feel a little uneasy. I became quietly resentful of always having to be the one to make the sacrifice.
I am light years away from being that teenage girl who dimmed her blackness to make others feel comfortable. The change occurred in college when I finally had access to black history classes. It was my first time in a classroom reading about W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance, Stokley Carmichael, and Assata Shakurto name a few. I drank up the information and felt pride in my peoples’ colorful history. My parents definitely provided a black history foundation for us, with my Mom telling us kids about her youth writing revolutionary poetry and rocking her Free Angela Davis pin. Meanwhile my Dad believed in book reports and presentations. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was required reading and in middle school he even made me write a book report on George Washington Carver—a scientist and an inventor who found mad ways to put peanuts to use. Fast forward to President Obama in the White House which was truly something I never believed I’d see in my lifetime.
The world is shifting on its axis once again with the election of a reality star to the highest office in the land. In this current post-election D.T. president-elect environment, I feel strongly that I need to plant my bare feet in the dirt, raise my face to the moon and call upon my ancestors to lead me through this next phase of my life. Like John Oliver said on his final show of this season’s Last Week Tonight, “This [D.T.’s presidency] is NOT normal…” He followed this by reminding his viewers to be vigilant and never accept that this man in office is just another day. So wtf does this have to do with me being proud to be black? Easy, as a people we have truly overcome so much and are rooted in the foundation of America, from helping to build the White House to being enslaved, to adding to the cultural enrichment of this country. So when someone like D.T. and his cabinet threaten that, I need to summon my inner James Brown, or in this case Styles P and be vigilant about letting people know, I’m happy to be me and I hope whatever culture, race, whatevs, that you represent that you feel the same way too without disrespecting the culture, race or p.o.v. of someone different from you.
Check out Styles P’s song “I’m Black”. It gets me amped and reminds me how happy I am to be black…I just wish I hadn’t wasted my younger years wanting to be something I wasn’t.