“The color black occurs when all colors in the visual spectrum are blocked from vision. However, I find black people exist in many different colors and hues. Too many to count.”
The above quote is from Aaron James, a friend of mine. Aaron wrote a thought-provoking life experience post on Facebook about race, culture and identity. I read it and knew right away, I wanted to share his voice on the cooldeb blog. Gratefully, he obliged! And I was not alone. Another friend reached out to him to do a Facebook live video. Aaron – personal note – thank you for sharing your voice. We hear you and wish to create a dialogue by inviting questions and sharing insight.
The excerpted highlights provide a powerful life lens from Aaron’s perspective. Courtesy heads up, some language might be tough to read. If you would like to receive the full version of his post, contact me via email.
Being black. Being tall.
Growing up, my father shared a story with me. He was pulled over once by a police officer and the officer asked him to step out of his vehicle. As my father stood, the officer reached for his pistol.
It’s possible this was an involuntary reaction; a reach for security. Nonetheless, it was a fear reaction.
It’s dangerous being a black man, partly because of the irrational fear it evokes from other people. The element that makes my experience unique is the men in my family are all around 6’7. My father taught me not only how to avoid the social pitfalls we face as black men in America, but as tall, black men in America, as well. For me, being tall means more to me than being black. It gives me a few degrees of separation and a different perspective than most people around me.
Context and the meaning of words
When I was in middle school, I got into a dispute with a kid who called my mom a nigger. I picked him up by his throat and slammed him into a locker. Honestly, I wasn’t even mad about what he said. I reacted that way because I wanted people around me to understand I was capable of reacting that way. And because I felt like I was expected to react that way when I heard that word.
To be honest, I’m not easily offended. I’ve always loved the way the word “nigga” rolls off the tongue. It was one of my favorite words back in the day, but I stopped using it because of the emotions it stirs in others. I truly understand the history of the word and why people would be offended.
I also understand context can change the meaning of a word.
I’ve heard variations of the word “nigger” used in many different contexts, from white people to black people meant as an insult, from white to black meant in adoration, from black to black meant in friendship and from black to black meant as an insult. In one context, a word can be extremely offensive and in another, it can be a term of endearment. I’m not saying that people should not be offended by the word “nigger.”
I’m talking about how I feel about it.
Being too black, not being black enough
You can be made fun of for being too black and for not being black enough.
Being too black refers to your skin tone and not being black enough is a reference to how many traits you possess reflecting current black youth culture. I say “current black youth culture” because cultures tend to be affected by time and geography, therefore, adult black culture is also a different culture. I don’t believe there is one united Black-American culture.
During my youth, I was told I was not black enough because I really loved The Blue album by Weezer. If I wanted to be black, I had to listen to hip hop, make sure I was up on the current pro football and basketball news, and not pronounce the “er” at the end of words. Being a fan of the grunge era was a sin that could not be overlooked. But only a few people ever had a problem with that. Most of my black friends didn’t care – probably because I loved Busta just as much as Weezer.
Roles, race and breaking molds
The school I went to was mostly white, but barely. It was interesting to see the roles people assumed. I often questioned if race played a part. For instance, the basketball team had both black and white kids. The black kids seemed to have a bit more intensity and flare, while the white kids seemed a bit more calculated and fundamentally sound. Picture Iverson and Kerr, as examples.
I also saw kids that broke the mold. It was nice to know it was possible to break it.
How being black has affected my life
All of this made me wonder why a word I thought was supposed to describe my skin color was so easily taken from me for lack of knowledge on a certain subject or a number of other random “failings.” I thought all I had to do to be black was be black. But that was not the case.
I also wondered why being black came with so many assumptions by people of all colors about my personal taste, character and emotional state.
So, what does being black mean to me? The color black occurs when all colors in the visual spectrum are blocked from vision. However, I find black people exist in many different colors and hues. Too many to count.
That’s just me. I’m not every black man. And I’m fine with that.