An individual’s struggle with self-definition is normal—it’s a part of growing up, natural to the “human condition.” The identity struggles that people of color experience, more specifically members of the Black community, are different though. Black individuals are not the only ones that bear the burden of finding comfort with Black identity. The Black identity struggle is an American identity struggle in every way, and although “American” traditionally follows the hyphen for those of African descent in our country, the treatment for this specific American raises much confusion.
The larger society is “color blind” and believes that exclaiming “I’m not racist!” makes them exempt from facilitating the exploitation of cultures of color, like that expression will be what separates them from people that are aggressively racist. The truth is Whites have never stopped making money off of Black people. Partly because consumerism and greed are more tightly sewn into our stripes than the 50 stars are, but mostly as a result of history and the complex web it has woven.
This web is interestingly intricate. There are parallels between how society chooses to portray us and how we see ourselves. When things are considered “beautiful” they are easier to accept and that’s just natural. What’s inspiring is how the Black community of this generation is reclaiming “Black Power” by being “Unapologetically Black,” a mindset that has spread in light of recent events. Being Unapologetically Black is a constant reminder that Black is beautiful because Black says so, not because someone else decided what aspects of our culture is and isn’t beautiful enough to replicate.
What was interesting as I was writing the first two pieces of this, I found myself writing surface level interview questions. For the men I was trying to dive into their psyche regarding Black masculinity in the community and for the women I found myself asking questions along the lines of their physical beauty and how it relates to being comfortable. If I were to do this again, which at some point I probably will, that’s something I would adjust. I know why I did it though, in our society it is so natural to analyze women based on their appearance, that’s just what a history of patriarchy has ingrained in us. Even though we would like to separate ourselves from it, it unavoidably defines how we operate, even in terms of race.
Something that came up in the interviews I did with the men and women was a sense of being “Black enough.” The men touched on their interests and how they may not have fit in with what was considered normal in the Black community and the women talked about their looks and how they talk as being criticized because those specific features weren’t normally represented in the Black community either. I can’t help but think that what has defined “Black enough” is portrayal of the Black community to the greater public, an image that throughout history hasn’t widely been controlled by Blacks themselves. It’s not something concrete and I can’t back it up with facts, but it’s a strong hunch that I have.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is that as a community, we have to support what it means to be Unapologetically Black. We need an attitude adjustment towards each other and to remind ourselves that at the end of the day we’re all Black regardless of the shade and facial feature. It’s more important than ever to let Black people be themselves, and other Black people love them for it. For so long we have operated with a sense of two-ness which won’t be detached from us anytime soon, but now we have the opportunity to change our narrative for generations of Blacks to come, and it starts with real genuine love.
Love doesn’t have to mean all Black people are best friends and through that we can lift our community out of these circumstances, that’s not what I’m saying. But I do challenge you to redefine love as the method that will provide support for other Black people to succeed. Love looks like making sure your peers pass their classes. Love looks like not bringing each other down for the sake of personal gain or satisfaction. Most importantly love simply looks like empathy and acceptance.