February is the one time of year I don’t like being black.
“Why?” you ask with a furrowed brow and a tone of concern.
Why? I ask myself as the conversations on the radio, in church, and even in my home start to bother me like an itch that’s too far to reach.
I guess it’s not so much the month of February that I dislike, rather it’s what happens during this designated time to talk about my race when I find myself at a loss for words.
“Black is beautiful,” they tell me, the people to whom I’m supposed to belong.
But I am not that sort of black person. My blackness is a shade of color inherited from my African father who was raised in New York City by African parents, a foster care system and eventually himself.
My blackness displayed itself in my college years when the president of the Black Student Union approached me at a football game and extended a hand of welcome. I sat in a row of white girls wondering why this black man had singled me out.
Raised in a white culture, I was desensitized to race in a most conventional way for my upbringing. Never referred to as black, my parents called my siblings and I brown. And whether to protect us from the stigma that comes with being black, or to remind us that we were indeed half white, I don’t really know.
Black to me as a child looked like teen pregnancy, friends without fathers, gang fights outside my home, gold teeth and chains. Black sounded like loud music, gun shots and a dialect — better known as ebonics — that my mother told me not to speak. And finally, black was a people I learned I didn’t really want to be like.
Apart from this somewhat dreaded month of the year I do value my blackness. Without the politics, and painful ramifications of being black, it truly is beautiful.
Black is skin that never burns in the summer sun, a hair texture like no others. Black is commonality with other ethnicities and questions of interest sparking conversations of far off countries, cultures, and languages. Black is an African heritage of which I am proud, a lineage that reaches back to my grandmother’s home in a land of a thousand hills.
So if I love my blackness, why is it that every year in February I want to hide in a hole? Perhaps because I feel ill-prepared to speak on behalf of my people. Because it only reminds me of how different I am from them. Because the conversations tend to only focus on the issues of black people as if we are powerless and should be pittied.
This blog once existed to explore my racial identity and to remind my readers to be more aware of life as a black person. But because I am biracial, I find myself being the one who is unaware.
Two years ago I stood outside a neighborhood pool, watching the little blond kids I babysit go in before me. “You have to pay $20,” the old woman at the counter barked.
I told her I was instructed by their mother to use her pass. She argued aggressively, determined to make me pay. I stood there, bewildered at her stubbornness. Meanwhile families passed by without even scanning their passes.
At a loss for what to do, I phoned the mother who was as shocked as I was. She explained they should allow me to use her pass and get through without a problem. The old woman glared at me when I hung up, so I tore my eyes away to search for a twenty dollar bill.
“That place is known for being racist,” someone told me later. “That’s why it was exclusive to begin with.”
I’m often unaware of my own skin color, more confused at how people respond to me than I am able to attribute it to race. Even compliments go over my head. When I was a kid I went to visit a nursing home with my white friend and her family. A black nurse spotted me in the group of white kids. “You are so beautiful,” she told me. And I received the compliment without realizing why.
I cannot deny that my skin color is a blessing in many circumstances. It’s like a right to passage in any ethnic group. I’m an instant sister, daughter, or granddaughter simply because I too am a minority.
But my ignorance does not blind me to the struggle of black people. With sadness I remember standing in a Georgia Cracker Barrel with my Dad. We waited patiently to be seated and as other white families coming after us were seated first, we eventually left without service.
And so, I teeter back and forth, irritated by the insensitivity of the majority culture, but also intolerant of my own ethnic group and their response of anger and hate. So please excuse me when I shut down during a conversation on race or when I back away from the people who victimize blacks. But this is my black hi(story) and it should be known.