When I First Realized I Was Black
I’m currently in the middle of reading a New York Times Bestseller called How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (props to my friend Brea Johnson who put me on to it). Which, can we talk about this? Should I, as a black man, be offended by the fact that another black friend suggested I read a book entitled “How To Be Black”? Is it some subtle way of saying, “you need this more than I do” with a soft pat on the shoulder as they slowly back away. I wasn’t offended, of course, I’m not that crazy. Although I do feel like the decorum involved in passing the book from one person to another should be clarified and/or discussed (perhaps via The Black Panel described in the book). If a white person had handed me the book I’m sure my head would’ve just exploded from the complexity of the situation. But, I digress.
In short, the book is enthralling and believe it or not, it’s accessible to everyone. I promise this isn’t me trying to trick you into reading some militant, Afro-centric book that will make you feel uncomfortable. In fact, I’m saving that for a later date because that concept is hysterical to me. The book well-written and satirical, but above anything else, thought-provoking.
SIDE NOTE: Yes, I am aware it’s been quite literally a year since I last posted. It’s fun to write these, but certainly harder to keep up with it than one would think. Something for which I certainly wasn’t prepared. But, let’s not linger on my shortcomings, which I’m sure are far more enjoyable for you to hear about than for me to acknowledge.
Let’s get back to it. In one of the early chapters, Thurston asks the question:
“When did you first realize you were black?”
Upon first reading it, I sort of felt embarrassed at the question. The embarrassment came from the fact that it had never crossed my mind before and it’s such a poignant question. I powered through the chapter and then gave it some real thought for myself. One of the people that he had asked claimed that their answer came from something their mother told them, so I feel comfortable using a similar example in my life.
According to my mom, when I was really young, we’ll say 6 or 7 years old, I was at my brother’s youth baseball game. For me, the experience was much more playing on the playground than actually watching my brother’s game (cut me some slack, you don’t know the allure of the jungle gym where these games were played). Aside from being a terrible fan and pillar of support for my brother’s trials as a young ball player, I was trying to be social and make friends because I always wanted to be the center of attention. Keep in mind that this is Northeast Indiana and we were one of the only black families that decided baseball was a great choice for coming of age sport.
So, apparently while playing on the playground, one of the kids I was friends with let slip that his dad didn’t like black people. Thinking I was the smartest kid on the planet (which obviously, I was), I decided the best method of action was to confront the kid’s father about it in front of everyone.
[Kid’s name] told me you don’t like black people. Why?
Again, according to my mom, what ensued was an insanely awkward moment for everyone as essentially this grown man had to explain to a 7 year old why he wasn’t racist. Do I wish that I actually remembered the entire exchange? Absolutely, but we all can’t get what we want. I’m sure this man and my younger self went skipping off into the sunset after his response was deemed adequate.
For the record, I was once told when I was younger that I looked like G-Baby from the movie Hardball. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. Google it and tell me I’m wrong. I should start a new blog only focusing on the fact that all cute little black kids don’t look the same. G-Baby was a great character though so I guess I should be honored?
All jokes aside, that’s crazy to think about. One singular moment that somehow defines what eventually becomes part of your identity (or at least as much of a part it as one wants it to be). Perhaps an even more interesting question is “do other kids have similar realizations?” On Thurston’s Black Panel, he cleverly added a Canadian white guy, not only for comedic purposes, but also for perspective and a control group.
It makes sense to me for minorities growing up in an area dominated by another race, but I started thinking even from a white perspective of when they realize that other kids are different. So many of the testimonials from the panel in the book were centered on the dominant race being the driving force in their realization, but what about white kids growing up in Saudi Arabia? And I don’t even know where I would start with South African children and the apartheid of it all. Just a thought.
That’s only after 63 pages of reading. I can also get into how, after 63 pages of reading, my mind tangentially took me to the conclusion that I am an asshole, but perhaps that is for another post.
So what now?
Well, I’ll probably finish this book. I flipped through some of the titles of other chapters and it looks like there is much more fun to be had within its pages. The chances are I will recommend this book to you and you will nod your head and say “yeah, I’ll definitely give it and try,” and then do nothing of the sort. You’re not mean, you’re just like 97% of everyone else in this world (including myself because I’m not that high and mighty). Look, I’m even giving you a link to the Wikipedia and Amazon pages for you to look at intently:
It feels good to be doing this again, hopefully a little bit more consistently than a year ago.