In answer to the Day 9 Question “Has Anyone Ever Questioned Your ‘Authentic Blackness?’”

I believe the quest to find/be part of a tribe is something that’s basically hard-wired in humans. The Internet has made it SOOO much easier for everybody, but especially young people, to find a tribal home or homes. I really don’t think today’s young people know how lucky they are. I remember watching “Afro-Punk” a couple of years back with a mixture of pride, wonder, and a little sadness: Where were these people when I was a kid growing up in Ohio in the 70s and 80s?

I grew up in a very pro-black household but it was in the sense of our parents putting up a good fight against any potential “de-authentication” resulting from our living amongst whites in an integrated suburb. Doing well in school, reading lots of books, speaking “proper” English, etc. — in our house this was just what we did and it had nothing to do with race. It was outside our house, amongst other black kids (mostly), that I learned that these things labeled me as inauthentically black. For better or worse, my parents had put the fear of God into us at a very young age so peer pressure never really had a chance: I continued to do well in school, read a lot, etc. and isolated myself from most of those peers.

The few friends I had, literally from fourth grade through high school, tended to also see the world in bigger, more expansive ways than those other kids. One had a habit of restlessly flipping the radio station dial; thanks to her I discovered all kinds of “white” music, including 20th-century classical music that was a far cry from the Bach etudes I was required to practice every day. Another (now deceased) was big into science fiction and introduced me to several different authors and magazines. Keep in mind we were all black girls and this was the late 70s and early 80s. We barely had computers, much less the Internet!

Currently I live in a very white part of the country (not quite like Vermont, but close). It has been years since anyone of any race has challenged my blackness directly but when I talk about how I grew up, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done, etc. I sometimes get dubious looks from white people. It’s like they can’t quite comprehend what they’re seeing/hearing and it betrays their conditioning about what they believe an “authentic” black person is. I could write a whole other essay on this but I’ll just say that, at this point in my life, my skin is my Black Card, and everything I do in this skin I declare to be authentically black.