Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Being black and keeping it real!
Black and white are not opposites. It is the social construct that expresses the norm vs. the anomaly. In the West the norm is white. White is just a physical feature though. To be white you just have to look white, that’s it. You can be white and rich, white and poor, white and smart, white and dumb, white and handy, white and lazy, white and sporty, … It doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad at football or dancing, whether you are better at math or are a good speaker. It doesn’t even matter what your favorite music style is. You are white because you look white.
Being black is unfortunately different. To be black you don’t just have to look black but you also have to ‘act black’. It means that you have to talk and walk a certain way. It means you listen to a certain kind of music. You should also be fond of sports and be good at dancing and singing. Then and only then you are ‘real black’. While white people can never be ‘fake whites’, blacks can be ‘fake blacks’.
If blacks do not answer to the criteria set for blackness they are not real. You become a bounty or an oreo. You may hear from white people things like: ‘Yeah, but you are different. You are not really black.’ But what does that mean? Why wouldn’t I be a real black person if I do look like a black person, if I am confronted with the same prejudices as other black people? Because I have a master’s degree and a good job? Because I know how to speak properly? Because I know how to be polite? Because I prefer rock music to hip hop and reggae? Because I don’t talk like blacks on TV?
It seems that if we do not act as a stereotype we lose our integrity, we even lose our identity. The worst is that blacks themselves keep this phenomenon alive. Blacks all over the Western world often expect their fellow blacks to ‘act black’, otherwise you are not authentic. Blacks use the bounty and oreo terms much more often than whites do, and we know it is meant as an insult.
White people do not have the same issue. You can talk and dance whatever way you like, you are still white. Nobody will say you are not really white. Even a wigger (a white person who dresses and talks like a rap gangsta) is and stays white. There isn’t any clear image of what a white person is supposed to be, or how whites are supposed to act in order to be ‘real whites’. Eminem is white and will stay white, but president Obama has to pass the realness test to be considered a brother (and apparently he succeeded very well at this).
Whites are therefore free to fill in their identity just the way they like (and just the way they are). This makes them stronger as it broadens their perspectives on personal success. This while blacks are confronted with stereotypes on which they have to test their authenticity. I don’t want to blame anyone for this social phenomenon, I just want blacks to reflect on this. And while I ponder on this I keep in mind Obama’s great words said during his short speech at the Democrat Convention in 2004: Eradicate the slander that says a black kid with a book is acting white!