Young black boy, there is more than one way to be black. Just like everything else, blackness comes in different forms. My adolescence cried for these words. Perhaps looking back, I’m being obtuse. Reality is, would my adolescent person willingly accept and comprehend the meaning behind these words? Questionable.
Fragile, comparable to glass, easily shattered but most importantly, impressionable. In a few words that’s how I would describe my blackness, my relationship with it before 16. Glancing back, it’s awkwardly painful to realise that I once tried fit myself inside certain boxes and meet preconceived notions. More shockingly, these boxes and preconceived notions shifted depending on my audience. Ultimately, I must have been aware. A part of me must have realised what the end game was, in my chest I knew it. I felt like my blackness was being under attack. But most importantly, it was being attacked by different groups.
Amongst my white peers or white figures of authority I took pleasure in defeating pre-existing stereotypes but at the same time using them to uplift myself. “You speak well for a black person”, “you don’t dress like other black people”, why did I not see them for the degrading statements they were but rather held them to my chest like compliments, well-lit words against my dark skin. Why did I see what I considered to be normal behaviour for myself a boon amongst those who were of a different race? These things aren’t synonymous with being white – they transcend boundaries, they can be attributes of anyone, anywhere. How I wish a younger me understood this.
To my black friends I was the bounty, white on the inside but black on the outside. This is not to say all my black friends shared this same belief but quite a few did. If you didn’t live up to certain stereotypes, then you simply weren’t black. No, I wasn’t your black athlete and nor was I interested Hip-Hop & R&B. God forbid I spoke to loud about indifference and dislike of chicken. I tried to change the way I spoke, the music I listened to and in some instances my interests. It’s interesting how the same stereotypes and preconceived notions placed on black men by the wider society can sometimes become an enforceable guideline within certain communities of how black boys they should be, how they should act and sadly, what may become of them.
It took an incident with a white friend stating their belief that they are blacker than me to snap out of this daze. His justifications sparked a realisation. These are things which can be applicable to anyone. They aren’t attributes of the colour of my skin, visual proof of my blackness before anything – the most visible aspect of my identity except for my gender. There isn’t one way to be black, there is no authentically black person – I won’t let my identity be shaped by unfair and dangerous social constructs.
Calling out my white peers on their stereotypes was much easier, many apologised or completely shied away from the topic. However, I found when berating other black people for demanding that I fit these boxes I was met with overwhelming resistance. First, I questioned the depth and hold of these stereotypes. I realised that I was being rather contradictory considering I once attempted to split myself to meet these same stereotypes and expectation. Is this something that can only be understood through self-realisation?
Why do black people who largely dislike the contradictory and largely absurd stereotypes created by society still use them to as markers to police the blackness of others? How can you use that which holds you back?
Perhaps being black is simply just being yourself. How I wish I knew.