University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Lee Fallon
Black Is Beautiful?
Personal Essay & Memoir
Black Is Beautiful?
"You're not black". That phrase right there is what I've heard my whole life. Constantly being said to me. I would respond saying, "What do you mean? I am black". I would always get a similar response. "No you're not. You don't act black." But how am I supposed to act? "You don't talk black". But how am I supposed to speak? "You don't look black". But the color of my skin is black! After hearing these things, I would always reassess myself, and try to change who I was. I would talk to myself saying, "They said I'm not black. But I know I am. I don't know what they mean. How can I prove it to them that I am black?" "They said I don't talk black. Well I'll just change the way I speak. But they said I don't act black either. How can I act black? Maybe I'll listen to different music. Rap music should do it all. Maybe I should just keep things to myself as well. The less I say, and the less I do, means that less people would be trying to tell me who I am. These were the thoughts I had at just nine years old.
I've never went to a public school. I've gone to US my whole life. I've been among a predominantly white environment of boys since I was five years old. I had never put that into perspective until one day, in fifth grade, a white student told me that I wasn't black. This puzzled me. How could someone who had the complete opposite skin color than me judge whether I was black or not? The color of our skin was the most obvious difference! "You're not black," he told me, "You don't even get haircuts. Your hairline isn't straight". That weekend I asked my mom for a haircut at a barbershop. I wanted a high-top fade. When I got it, I thought to myself, "there's no way anyone will say that I'm not black now. Plus, I've got the best haircut in my grade now". Looking back at that picture now, I realize that it was the ugliest haircut I could have gotten. But, since then, I started regularly getting lineups at the barbershop. Growing up at US, I never really talked using 'slang', or in other words, 'talked black', at school. I was taught to speak 'properly' and to use my manners. And that's exactly what I did. But when I was with my black friends I would talk with 'slang'. Over time, continually speaking like this I got used to it. I would naturally talk that way with my black friends, but then switch over to speaking 'properly' when I was at school. I had subconsciously mastered something called code switching.
You may have started to notice something. Every time someone else saw an imperfection in me, I would 'fix' it. Because I would change things about me, I changed who I was. I was constantly code switching. Almost like having two different personalities. Because of this, during my tenth-grade year, I started to wonder who I really was. I didn't know who to talk to or hang out with. When I was around my black friends, I noticed that they rarely code switched. I wondered how that was possible. Didn't they know that speaking how they did was considered too casual and rude? Then it hit me. They didn't know. But why didn't they know? They didn't know because they were never taught what speaking 'properly' was like. They had manners, but they always talked using 'slang'. They didn't grow up around white kids like I did. They had never really used 'proper' speech. From this, I learned that my black friends speaking 'slang' to others isn't rude at all. They don't use profanity, they just sound different when they speak, and that's perfectly okay. Nothing is wrong with the way they speak.
The mindset I had when I thought that 'slang' is rude is unfortunately what a lot of other people think. The way that most black people talk, is one of the many stereotypes placed on us. The stereotypes are not placed on one person because of his or her personality. The stereotypes are placed on all black people, essentially categorizing us and putting labels on us as a whole. I've heard things before like, "All black people look alike. They all dress the same. They all have nappy hair. All black people act the same. Dreads are only for people in a gang." Hearing these things did not make we want to 'fix' anything. These comments infuriateme. We are all different people and go about our own ways. Why are black people always generalized and all presumed to be the same in a negative manner? Black people say that "Black is beautiful". But is it really? Not only do stereotypes affect us, but the many different modes of racism affect us. The constant, recurring violence brought to us verbally, physically, mentally, and psychologically affects not only the victim of it, but the others around that are watching, making us all victims. This is what society spits out at us. It makes me think, again about who I am. It makes me have second thoughts about being black. Do I even want to be black? There's no choice. I have to be black! I can't change the color of my skin. But what I can change is how others see me. I can still do the things that others do while being black. I can still be myself even though I'm black. I can still be manurable while being black. I can still hold myself to a higher standard while being black. I can still go about my day while being black. I can still walk, talk, sing, eat, drink, sleep, work, play, learn, and more all while being black! I can still live while being black! I can be myself, no matter what other people think. So now when I hear someone tell me, "You're not black", it goes in one ear and out the other. I know that the color of my skin is black, and I know that being black does not mean that we are all the same. I know that I am black. I know that I want to be black. I know that I love being black. So when the question arises, "Black is beautiful?" I'm able to assure myself. Yes. Black is beautiful.