It’s 2:30 am. I’m jet lagged, hungry, and cranky. I fell asleep on the couch at 9pm, awoke at 11pm, and have been up ever since. This is the 3rd day of this mess. I’ve been to Pennsylvania and back and my body doesn’t know what to do with itself.
Early mornings in unfamiliar dwellings can be scary. I thought I heard gunshots about an hour ago and nestled in a bit closer to the wall. As I lie there I thought about this site and its name: wearingmyblackness. How do I wear my blackness? I wear it unwillingly. I didn’t understand that I was Black until I was 21 on safari in Kenya. Events coalesced to create a tearful moment of discovery. A woman in a market saw me first as Black. In a quick “my life flashed before my eyes” moment similar occurrences from my history highlighted themselves in my recollection. My existence is often defined in opposition to, or accordance with Blackness.
I refuse to speak in blanket statements. That leads to hot boxing with the nastiness of racial farts and I’m not down with that. I am, however, willing to entertain the notion that there are commonalities among cultural groups. Those cultural groups are often defined in association with skin color. Sometimes they’re not.
Where you’re Black in America someone needs to teach you how to survive. Lessons from a person of color’s family tend to differ from those handed down from a White family. [In this context a person of color is someone who presents as belonging to a racial group that is not White –more about that in another entry] When examined further, each ethnic and/or racial group educate their youth on survival and various social mores differently.
When I was small my mother would not allow me to walk into a store with my hands in my pockets. It was a habit then and is still a habit now. I’d walk into a grocery store and put my hands in my pockets. Kinda like a tick, but not. Then, my mother would slap my hands from my pockets and they’d fall to my sides. I’d spend the entire trip in a physical and mental battle with myself. My hands would float toward my pockets. My mind (or my mother) would slap them back. Her rationale; you don’t want anyone to think that you’re stealing. Now that I’m older and more educated my hands still do this weird dance outside my pockets. It’s 20 years later and that lesson stays with me. I’ve grown up thinking I must always be afraid that someone will think I’m stealing. Even though my hands do an awkward jig as I enter stores I make intentional choices to combat how I was socialized. Sometimes, I shove them in my pockets on purpose. I seek to defy. Other times, I wrestle with an item in my bag to invite accusation. There are also times, when I don’t think about it. I can’t remember a single one, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
If we weren’t poor we wouldn’t be shopping in places where being accused of shoplifting was common. If we weren’t Black, the cameras and store clerks would be just and eensy bit less likely to follow us around.
That’s what I mean when I say “wearingmyblackness.” I seek to document and examine the instances when my socialization as a Black American confronts a world created and dominated by those who aren’t. It’s not just about being Black. It’s about what happens when you acknowledge it.