Can I Identify As Black?
Navigating the world through the white lens
A poem: BBB
I am black
I am bold
I am beautiful
yeaaaa, this gets a lot of applause.
A poem: WBB
I am white
I am bold
I am beautiful
yea, nahh, nobody ever says that…sorry nahh
Ok, another rant or maybe just ruminating thoughts in my head
A few years ago, I tweaked my creative hashtag on IG and FB to include the word -black (#blackgirlwho…). Why? It was a cool thing to do, especially as I was just making friends from across the ocean and the black American community was burning hot to be recognised, so I wanted to be a part of that change. It’s like how men call themselves feminists because that's the latest burning struggle online and they want to be a part of it. (I kinda have a problem with loud feminist men tho. But that's another story for another day).
So I included black in my hashtag but I wasn’t black! Obviously, I am African and dark-skinned and I wasn’t ignorant of the Black struggle in the western world (I mean we get a lot of that in the media and across social media). But the concept was too vague and far removed from my consciousness I couldn’t even picture myself as an identified Black person because I am African, and black is not my identity. Everyone around me is black, there are no white kids or white families around me. There is no discrimination between whites and blacks in my community, at work, in the hospital, hotel, school, etc. and this fact shielded me from the mental realisation of being “black” in the global context because my definition of black was different.
Back home: What it meant to be black
Don’t get me wrong, colourism exists in Africa, and back in my country, luck favours the fair-skinned. It is common to discriminate against dark-skinned people, making them subjects of colourist jokes. The dark-skinned girl is ugly and must brutalise her natural tone of melanin to achieve a yellow glow of unnatural multicoloured vulnerability, lost inside skin-toning bottles of “organic concoction” that peel the flesh, leaving knuckles in rings of black. I don't know if that description makes any sense to you, but all my life I had to fight the urge to these bottles.
So being black is having a darker unappealing shade of melanin that is found less attractive and associated with poverty. You do not get treated less than human or fight for your fundamental human rights, or be chased out of public pools. Being black is not a death sentence in my country!
The Present: Being black in a white world
It’s been 3 months of living in Portugal (one of the least racist European countries) and I still don’t know how to be the white person’s version of black. I wonder how it would be in highly racist countries because it is not cool learning how to be the black that white understands.
But I am beginning to get the drift slowly. I am beginning to link the dots together, to identify that this random white person is shocked to see a black person and not just a person as expected. I am beginning to notice the avoidance of gaze, the hesitation to connect, the futility of my smiles and the extra effort at friendship.
I am beginning to learn how much I have to open and stretch my arms to be hugged when all around me short hands align and fuse together and faces receive kisses. I am learning to muffle my humour and hesitate to help so I don't seem slavish and pathetic or ask for help. I am learning to see my black reflect in their eyes before my humanity.
I am learning to be that person whose ancestors were caged, chained and denied the right to vote in the last century. The person whose food is exotic and ‘must be nice’, learning to be the one who is asked how the lions in my compound back home are doing. Ok, the wild animal thingy was very funny, because I just couldn't wrap my head around that question. I have lived in the city all my life.
I am learning to identify as the black girl. And every time I wear my curly wig (lose like curly white hair) to class and see how more faces smile at me, more eyes linger when we meet, my soul sinks further and I hate my wig more. Because I get compliments of how awesome my hair is! (Like girl, this is a wig, my real hair has followed me to class every day for the last month you all refused to look at me)
I am neither black nor black, yet
I am in this confused state where I sometimes forget that I am supposed to be the stereotyped black and react to actions/words that were tailored for a black. My African friends tell me how to spot racist comments and now I am questioning everything. I am learning how to live without acting for these white gazes or none.
So I let myself explore a kinda mental space where I am first African, original, true to my elegance and throaty belly laughs. And I love to wear my natural locks in cornrows, adorn my neck with the lion’s tooth pendant beads, wear my cowries proudly and stare blankly at everything around me.
Screaming silently, I do not see you until you see me.
P.S. My article titles are meant to be clickbait worthy, yea and I try to pull them out of my pun pockets. Although this time around I chose the word “identify as black” because the world is transitioning into a fluid state of self-identities, and I am in a country where that concept is openly practised and now I have to question a lot of bias, which is story for another rant.
This is the diary of an #unusualhuman searching for thrills until the bliss of nothingness drags her beyond this consciousness. She feels, she bleeds, she heals, she feels again.