From Sandy Springs where an ex-principal has a new book on racist culture at a fictional elementary school to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien’s recent documentary, “Who is Black in America” to sports commentator Rob Parker’s comments on Robert Griffin III, it’s clear that race issues and the boundaries of conversation can be tricky.
Race problems may never be erased but we may be making progress by shedding light on an unfortunate question that lingers in African American culture – “Is he or she proud to be black?” "Are they black enough?"
Rob Parker’s comments about RGIII on ESPN’s “First Take,” Thursday, were unfair, reaching and inappropriate in my view, but I understood that he was making his comments from a place of love for his own heritage and the black community.
What gets lost when Parker or other folks go off on a tangent of “Is he or she proud to be black?” is the sadness and disappointment, and yes anger that the finger-pointer really feels at the thought that the person wouldn’t want to be black.
I disagree with Parker’s comments about RGIII, but black pride is an old term that remains very real and true. I haven’t done the research but I dare say that most black Americans, in the past and present, even those who experience some type of racism on a regular basis, would never change the color of their skin - if they somehow had a choice.
For all of us - black, white or brown - our skin color brings us an experience we wouldn’t otherwise have. And if you love your family, heritage, culture, the awareness and wisdom that is inherent in being the race that you are, you become proud of it and even protective.
Ex-Sandy Springs principal Ruth L. Baskerville, an African American, told Patch that often folks don’t know if she is black, white or Hispanic. The confusion can be frustrating for people who may want to categorize her, she said.
But just like black folks don’t want to be stereotyped and placed into a category or box, we must try not to do that ourselves. This can be tricky for some African American baby boomers because many of us grew up with an idea of what being black is. In most cases it was with two black parents. Whatever the case, if you had a tendency to “act white” the question would arise – “Are you black enough" meaning "Are you proud to be black?"
Letting Other People Define Who You Are
Today’s Generation Y is very mixed-race and perhaps, for the good, more light-hearted about the issue of race.
It’s becoming clear to me that how we internalize race, just like anything else, is our own choice and often we let other people define who we are.
Thankfully, Robert Griffin III doesn’t do that. He appears clear about who he is as a person, a man and football player.
That’s not always easy. Soledad O’Brien’s recent “Who is Black in America” featured 17-year-old Nayo Jones, whose father is white and mother is black. For most of the documentary Nayo was reluctant to embrace her black roots. She said it was because she was raised in a strictly white culture. Her struggles with identity are probably also related to her absent mother, who Nayo had not seen since she was very young. After all, as babies, we identify with our parents long before race.
Nayo complained that because she is mixed-race, folks want to place her in a category – black or white. But in my view, if she figures out her own identity and can manage to disregard what society has to say about it, she will be a free spirit.
From elementary school through high school, I was called the N-word by white classmates. I heard the word so frequently and got into so many heated exchanges over the years, that when I moved to Atlanta for college, I had to get used to not hearing the word. I had to learn to let my guard down.
I learned how far I had come, several years later, while I was living in New York City. Just before I walked into Central Park on an early Saturday morning, I passed an elderly man sitting on a bench on Fifth Avenue. He shouted the N-word when I passed by. I was amazed by him but somehow not offended.
Several hours later I passed by him again along with several pedestrians. He said it again. It was obvious the man was mentally ill. But it wasn’t about him. It was about how I received it.
Since that day, I realized that folks’ opinions about race are their own. It’s about their own issues and who knows what’s at the root of it? Of course all of us should stand-up for our rights and what we deem to be right.
But how do we benefit if we let other people define who we are?