Thursday, August 13, 2009

Am I Black Enough For Ya?

No, actually you are not.

The crop of '80s babies whose parents sacrificed for their kids to grow up in the right neighborhoods (i.e. not a brown face in sight), attend the right schools (again, mostly white, regardless of the rigorless curriculum) and talk right (i.e. using white colloquolisms, not proper grammar) really piss me off.

In some ways, I'm one of them. Technically, I've always lived West of the interstate that runs through my hometown, either in a suburb or sufficiently close to one to be considered suburbia. I entered a Montossori program at 5, a magnet school at 6 and thus was privy to my share of "Well, that's an interesting hairstyle" comments and damn-I'm-the-only-Black-girl-at-this-sleepover-again moments.

But, on the other hand, I grew up with a huge Souhern Black family. Which meant that I always knew the latest ghetto dance, had plenty a recommendation for a good, cheap hairbraider and could hand-game with the best of them.

Because I've moved within different worlds my whole life, it always annoys me when people who are more one-sided feel superior about it. Like, "Oh, I'm a wannabe Valley girl with bad weave. I'm better than you." Or, "I'm so hoooooood. Get on my level." Either personality is annoying, but the Oreo complex is the most offensive. Mainly because it's rooted in the same prejudices that kept Black people out of those white (not rich) neighborhoods and schools. The idea that because white people embrace it, it must be better.

Just because you listen to Maroon 5, doesn't mean you have eclectic taste. It only means that you like Top 40 hits. Like the rest of the world. Just because the slang you use isn't normally heard on MLK Boulevard, doesn't mean that you're speaking the King's English. Your speak isn't "better" than so-called African-American venecular; it's just different. Just because you have "Daddy Bought It" plates on your car instead of a baby Jordan dangling from the rearview, doesn't mean you are more cultured; your culture is just not stereotypically Black. But you still are.

And again, I find it so obnoxious because the mentality behind it is "Well, this is white, so it must be better." I attended Howard University ("H-U!") and I vividly remember all of those Freshman year, "rep your set" talks. The Black-neighborhood kids against the white-neighborhood kids (I repped both), the private school folks against the public school people. The gist of what a lot of the Oreo kids would say is that their parents wanted the best for them, so sending them to ABC Avenue High School and making them the only one in their class was the best option. The school's often didn't offer any special programs or super-duper advanced classes to prepare them for a good college. They were just white.

I just never understood that. Probably because my mom was so vehemently against me and my sister going to school in predominantly White neighborhoods. She never explained to me why, but I believe it was because she understood the sense of pride and community you get when your principal, counselor, teachers and fellow students are Black. When everyone is actively engaged in the process of learning and growing, not just about academics, but also about history and culture. Maybe it was because she recognized that some of the best academic programs our city had to offer weren't at the nearby Catholic school or Joe Schmo White School, but in historically Black neighborhoods, like the one that she was raised in and where our grandmother lived.

But at the end of the day, that's high school, or middle school, or some other school that's in the past. So anyone that carries that experience around like a badge of honor, please shut up and sit down.



Anonymous said...

amen to this post. I'm in school right now and have a friend who seems to keep this same mindset. The only difference is that her diatribe is against ALL things associated with American culture, including her own African-American heritage. She seems to think that trumpeting and praising the culture of people, while purposefully ignoring/criticizing her own makes her look more cultured and aware. For some reason, she doesn't like to view herself as an American, despite the fact that she is born and raised in the United States.

One time, she said to me "I don't think Black Americans or Americans in general have a culture." I was quick to remind her that Black Americans do have a culture, but it becomes so emulated to the point where it's no longer considered black american culture, but more of a "global phenomenon". I think people forget that it was African-Americans that invented Jazz music, swing/jive dance, hip-hop/r&b/soul/rock&roll music,break-dance, modern graffiti and a plethora of other things. I can't remember where I heard this, but somebody once said that the easiest way for someone to take something away from you is to first convince you that you don't have anything. And unfortunately, i feel there are many blacks who have bought into this believing that black culture or anything that comes from it isn't worth anything.

Mademoiselle M said...

the commenter above really spoke the truth with that last comment. I'd never thought about it that way, but how amazingly true it is!

You've gotten two great sides in your post. But then, in my opinion, there are people such as myself whose parents sacrificed to send me to a better school period -whether it was black or white - simply because those in my own community were not good. I grew up in PG county, in a neighborhood that was completely suburbia, and slowly becoming less diverse (more black folks). My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to catholic schools, the first was predominantly black and my high school was predominantly white. I dont think going to either of those made me better than anyone else, but without a doubt it gave me a better education. My high school experience showed me the disparity between whites and blacks in the DC metro area. I'm not saying my high school was good because it was predominantly white. I'm saying that the best high schools in this area are predominantly white (and private). I live across the street from a high school in beltsville that my sister went to for a year. My mother said she'd let a car knock her down before she let me go there.

Basically I'm saying, I see your point. I appreciate your experience and (what you believe to be) your mothers perspective. I would feel the same way as her in your situation. But there are communities such as mine where there aren't great options other than majority schools. And parents like mine who sacrificed to send their last child to the best school (academically) they could. And there are people such as myself who don't think that makes me any better than anyone else. After all, I did go to HU and sit next to kids who had completely opposite experiences as me and are equally if not more intelligent than me.

Britt said...

Preach! I couldn't have said it better myself.