Two weeks ago, after the Rachel Dolezal story broke, folks on Twitter got to work. Soon the hashtag “#AskRachel” was trending and I couldn’t help but join in on the fun. If you take a look at some of the tweets, you would see stuff like:
or my personal favorite, because I can’t tell you how often I heard my mother say this:
Yes, these are funny and yes, I laughed at a good deal of them and I shared in the same cultural references, but there were quite a few I didn’t understand. Like this one:
or this one:
See, the deal with the #AskRachel hashtag is that these were all American Black Culture questions. I would even go as far as to say that these are American Urban Black Culture references and, even in jest, shouldn’t be a marker as to how “black” someone is or is not.
What Are You?
Growing up, I was reminded how not “black” I was. My mother is black, my father white so I’m a kid of mixed race. I was called mullato, Oreo, mixed girl, Upon meeting me, people would ask,
What are you?
because they couldn’t figure out what box to put me into. Even my ever loving husband and his family asked that question. I can safely say that I have been asked what I am just about every time I meet someone new. People want to know what box to check off.
When I was in middle school (90-94) I listened to hip-hop and rap because that’s what most of my friends listened to. Once I got to high school (94-98) my tastes moved on to Country and Alt Rock. Now, in my 30s I am still listening to music from the 90s, with no shame.
I don’t speak with a “black-cent” and I definitely have no swagger. In fact, the closest I get to a “black-cent” is the occasional sassy “mmm-hmm.” In 8th grade, I was laughed at by the whole class because, when reading out loud, I pronounced the assault rifle “TEC-9” as a “Tea-Eee-Sea nine” rather than “Tech-nine.”
When I was 13, my aunt took me to a black beauty salon for a fresh 90s haircut. It was short on one side and long on the other. Google “Salt-N-Pepa and 90s” and you’ll see what I mean if you can picture it.
It was cute. And the I washed it and it turned into giant puff ball on the side of my face.
In high school, I was too black for the white guys and too white for the black guys. There weren’t many Latino guys in my school but I am sure I wouldn’t have fit in to that cultural either. I was an overly academic, flute playing, drum major who decided that taking her senior picture in a flannel shirt was a good idea and that was just because my brother stole my “Brett Favre” jersey and was wearing it that day.
Thank you, “Blackish”
The ABC sitcom “Blackish” talks about this very concept in many of their episodes and has done a funny job at bringing the juxtaposition of cultures into the spotlight. Some are pretty overt, as when Bow challenges Dre to tell her “hair and her ass” that she’s not black (as she is biracial, played by Traci Ellis Ross,) but Dre gets it good too when challenged in his blackness by a white Michael Rappaport in the episode “Keepin’ it Real.” The show even dips its toes into black politics in dedicating an episode to why a self-respecting black person should ALWAYS vote for the Democrat. While I respectfully disagree with that position, it was still funny. (Seriously, if you are not watching “Blackish” you need to!!)
What the show does is to ask the question: “What does it mean to be “black?” Is a black kid from Bel Air less black than a kid from Compton? Is a black girl from Senegal less back than a girl from the Bronx? Is a Black family in Montana less black than family in Florida?
If we measured racial fitness by a cultural standard, we’d all fail, but that does bring up the question of what exactly is race and why is it so important to us?
Race and Gender as nothing but cultural constructs
Race and Gender are two social constructs that are currently being brought into question. We have seen Caitlyn Jenner grace the cover of Vanity Fair in a bustier and get accepted with glad, open arms despite the fact that she is 65 years old and is making other 65 year olds look like they don’t care enough about themselves. (my opinion.) Soon after you get Rachel Dolezal has us asking what makes a person black and getting lambasted by the media because you can’t just claim another race. Personally, I’m trying to see what the difference is. If someone can be transgender, couldn’t someone also be transracial seeing as race and gender are things society assigns to a person? Is race something you can’t claim because of the cultural norms that are attached to each race? Or is it because race is so much more personal? Or is it because Rachel Dolezal lied and her parents had to out her as being a white girl?
Race as a social construct has done nothing to unite us as a species, rather it serves as a vehicle for some to show how separate and not equal we are. Race is what lead to Dylann Roof walking into a black church in Charleston, sitting and praying in communion with its members, and then shooting them in cold blood. (And since we are talking about race, why is it that when a white guy shoots up a room, he’s mentally disturbed, but if a black guy does it, he’s a thug?) Race allows one group to determine they are better, more enlightened, more educated, more worthy than another, just because skin, eye and hair colors (and textures) are different. (Hello, British Empire??)
Three kids. All Blackish. Except for the brown-haired girl. According to the state of Missouri, she is all black.
We like to say that we are living in a post-racial society. Until we stop willingly separating ourselves into neat little piles of people, there’s nothing post- about it.
What do you think?
Until next time!