What Is Black Enough? Acting White?

What is being “black enough”? Is it based upon complexion?  Is it a question of heredity and genealogy, or culture and experience?  I have been mistaken for being Hispanic, Hawaiian, biracial, and even have been told that I look like an Arab, so I suspect that one”s physical characteristics alone do not make someone black enough.  Moreover, in many respects, it makes me realize how ethnic classifications based on colors are misguided anyway.   Black America, in particular, not only consists of people with many variants of complexions, black American culture consists of people whose racial heritage is a product and blend of the realities of the sexual impropriety by white men and their rape of black women during slavery.  When analyzing these wanton, sexual misdeeds against black women by Euro-centric whites, it is not a stretch to realize that most blacks in America are technically biracial.

So, again, what is “black enough”?  My skin is brown, and this makes me subject to the same racism that any other black person in America has faced.  There are areas where I can”t walk without being stopped by the police.  There are still “sundown towns” that I would be loath to be caught in after dark.  If I were buying property, there are neighborhoods that I would not be shown by realtors because of my skin color.  In New York City, there are still the shops that would deny me entrance and cabbies that would refuse to stop for me because I am black.  There are still the banks that give me higher interest rates on loans than my white counterparts (if they would give me a loan at all) notwithstanding equal credit scores and financial status.  I would be turned down for certain positions at certain corporations just like any other qualified black man!  And the list goes on and on.  Indeed, what is being “black”?  Likewise, what is “acting white”?  There is not a manual that says all black people are supposed to have the same tastes when it comes to clothes, food, music, or anything else.  Am I not black because I can appreciate Vivaldi or Mozart as well as James Brown or Public Enemy?  Does my preference for white zinfandel over a forty ounce malt liquor make me less black?  Does my respect for education, learning and knowledge mean that I am “acting white”?  Do I lose some of my “blackness” because I enjoy listening to some country music and watching a little NASCAR?  Notwithstanding my personal likes and dislikes, I am still black!  Though I can appreciate things about American culture that are deemed to be characteristically white, I also appreciate my black culture, history and heritage, as can be attested by my writings and concerns.  In spite of trying to experience many different things that life has to offer outside of what some may consider African-American cultural constraints, I have been labeled a black radical, militant, and even a racist at different times in my life.  So am I “black enough” for the most part, or “acting white” just a little too much?  This whole notion of trying to define blacks by misguided perceptions and stereotypes, fueled by an uneven media, is ignorant and/or disingenuous.  Black culture, much less American black culture, is not monolithic.  Sure, African-Americans have things in common, like members of any ethnic group.  But African-American culture, like any culture, continues to evolve.

Isn’t it funny how Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson accused Oprah Winfrey of being an Oreo (black on the outside, and white on the inside)?  Everyone has a right to their opinions, but who is 50 Cent to question Oprah’s blackness?  They both came up under difficult circumstances and overcame their troubled childhoods to gain a measure of success.  Of course Oprah was not a crack dealer dealing out death and destruction upon her own black community.  50 Cent starred in Get Rich Or Die Tryin”, a movie that arguably glorified gang life and moral decadence, and Oprah starred in The Color Purple, a portrayal of the strength of black women in the midst of racial and gender inequality.  Like Oprah, 50 Cent has given charity to his black community, but his rap lyrics (like many rap lyrics) arguably have  a profoundly negative impact upon  impressionable young, black minds.  In 50 Cent”s defense, Oprah Winfrey may not have as many black people on her staff at  Harpo Productions as some would think, and the Oprah Winfrey Show may not have depicted the struggles of black folk to the degree and amount that many black people would have liked.  But every once in a while, Oprah had some shows that dealt with social and economic issues that concern the black community.  Oprah’s choice to have many shows dealing with worldwide issues as opposed to just black American issues does not make her any less black.  Oprah Winfrey will go down as one of the greatest black women in history—revered by blacks, whites, and all other peoples of the earth.  Will the same be said of Curtis Jackson?

All in all, “blackness” is undoubtedly in the mind of the beholder.  The question of being “black enough”  is an abstraction—intellectual smoke and mirrors—that can never be answered or refuted.  The next time that you are questioning whether or not someone is “black enough,” consider that they may be asking the same about you.  This is purely hypothetical, but perhaps Malcolm X asked whether Martin Luther King was “black enough” when King was preaching nonviolence.  Maybe W.E.B. Dubois questioned the “blackness” of Booker T. Washington when Washington gave his address at the Atlanta Exposition.  Though these men may have had philosophical differences on how to empower blacks, one thing that they all had in common was appreciation for their heritage, the desire to take part in the ongoing struggle for freedom, respect for hard work and education, and a strong desire to unify and edify the black community”s social and economic status in an unequal America. Their lives epitomize the fact that individuals can succeed at using different methods to help blacks in their struggle for equality, and this truth really makes the question of whether or not someone is “black enough” meaningless.


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