Friday, September 10, 2010

Black Like Me

I watched this great documentary today called Off and Running. It's part of PBS' P.O.V. (point of view) series. If you haven't checked it out you should!. Well this documentary was about a white, Jewish, lesbian couple and their three adopted children. The three children were: a 17-year old dark-skinned black American girl, an 18-year old light-skinned Puerto Rican/black American boy and a 10-year old Korean boy. All of these children were adopted as babies and were raised under the traditional Jewish traditions of their family.

They were almost always the only non-white children at their Jewish school but they didn't view themselves as different until someone else pointed it out. The main focus of the documentary was the 17-year old girl. She seemed to be confident in who she was as a person until she started attending a predominantly black high school and got her first real exposure to black people and black culture.

It was so frustrating to watch this confident girl doubt herself and turn on her parents because her new friends joked about her family. You know that when she's an adult, the girl will look back at the documentary and realize how ignorant her friends were and how she disrespected her family. The girl was blaming her parents for being different. For making her less black than her friends could handle. Suddenly the fact that these women had raised her and given her a great life didn't mean anything.

The girl ended up dropping out of school, moving out of her parents house and getting pregnant before she pulled it together at the end. In the end she got her GED, started talking to her family again and was accepted to a historically black college. I hope that she finds her identity in college and realizes that black people come in many different colors and personalities but I worry that she will continue to let the ignorant people control her.

I really associated with this documentary because I have been this girl. I distinctly remember being one of only a handful of black kids at my private school and almost always the only one in my class. I remember how uncomfortable I was when teachers asked me what I thought of prominent black politicians and entertainers. Like some how I was representative of the entire race. Or when I went to a friends house for the first time and their parents were surprised that I was black because I sounded white on the phone. Or when some of my relatives made fun of me because I talked "white". I remember how difficult the transition from private school to public school was when it suddenly became very clear that I was not like many of the other black kids and that kids of both races had a problem with this.

I use to daydream that my dad had other children that I didn't know about. That my father (who was very light skinned) had children with a white woman and that these children were light skinned like him. I thought that one day I would meet these kids and suddenly have people who understood what I was going through. Like somehow the existence of light-skinned brothers and sisters would validate the experiences that I had as a dark-skinned black person. I felt like I couldn't have these feelings because I didn't look the part.

I read in Essence magazine that the average black American is 22% European. I have always been very interested in genealogy and where my family came from but it seems like a lot of black people don't share this desire. They appear accept the title African-American that society has labeled them with. I guess its better than negro or colored but its still not correct.

It's so frustrating to me when people describe white people as Italian/German/Mexican/etc. American but all black people are just African American. And I'm not talking about 1st or 2nd generation Americans, I'm talking about my peers. People who were born in this country and whose family has been here for many generations just like mine. I'm so tired of everyone else being asked the question and not me. I am not a statistic or a stereotype. I am an individual and I'd like to be treated as one.

When I was younger I would go out of my way to tell people that members of my family were biracial and light skinned because I felt it was the only thing that would justify these feelings that I was having. After watching this documentary, I realize that my fake biracial siblings would probably have been just as confused and conflicted as I was. They probably would have faced even more prejudice than I did because their appearance would make it even more difficult for them. I have witnessed this prejudice from biracial friends and classmates and do not wish it upon anyone.

I would like to say that as an adult I have overcome these anxieties but that wouldn't be true. I still have family members that make fun of me for the way that I talk, my friends, my husband and the music and hobbies that I have. Complete strangers continue to judge me because I dont' fit into the box they think I belong in. I have a white friend from college who likes to joke that she's blacker than me because she dates black men and listens to rap music. I am better at defending myself and not letting all of these people prevent me from living my life but it still gets to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment