What cultivates your identity? Is it the color of your skin? Is it the movies you watch? Or, is it the type of people you hang around? According to the standards I’ve grown up with, it’s a mixture of all of the above and none of the mentioned.
As a biracial individual, I’ve always had an issue with finding an identity to fit in. Growing up, I was always “the Black kid” or some title that loosely related to false ideas of who Black people are. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I felt comfortable in my permanently tanned skin, and even then, I still didn’t feel like I fit in with Black people.
Since then, I’ve grown a lot. I’ve gotten a “Black” haircut. I play a predominately Black sport. I’m rewatching some of my favorite TV shows and movies with Black casts. I’ve learned more about my culture, no thanks to public schooling. However, none of these are prerequisites to be “Black.”
So, what exactly does it mean to be Black?
Being Black is more than just having dark skin and bodacious hair; it’s an experience. For me, it’s growing up being picked on for not speaking in slang, being invested in my education or not adhering to the multitude of less-than-human stereotypes. For me, it’s having to research how racist a place is before visiting. For me, it’s watching my culture be dragged through the mud only to be washed off and rebranded as somehow more spectacular.
It’s disheartening to realize that, as a kid, I never felt proud of who I was because I didn’t fit in a predetermined idea of what a Black kid was supposed to be. As much as having a strong Black father helped me today, it felt like a hindrance in yesteryears.
In Childish Gambino’s “Hold You Down,” there are few lines that say, “He said I wasn’t really Black because I had a dad. I think that’s kinda sad. Mostly ’cause a lotta Black kids think they should agree with that.”
This song, among many others, still runs through my head when I think about the Black experience. During my elementary years, I was convinced that, since I had an amazing Black father, I didn’t qualify to be Black. As I grew, my father taught me more on what it means to have melanin, and without him, my identity would still be lost in my struggle of being biracial in a predominantly white community.
The reality is, a lot of Black individuals share this experience, Northwest students included.
For sophomore Tiffany Hughey, being Black is knowing that she looks very different among a lot of her peers and environment, but finding a sense of pride in it.
For Junior Cayla Vertreese, not being “Black enough” means not being fully accepted by Black people or white people. It means being targeted for her skin color but being dismissed when she tries to talk about her racist encounters.
To her, she feels as though she is “nine times out of 10” being tolerated and not being accepted. Through the adversity she faces as a Black woman, she finds herself as one of the most resilient beings on the planet, balancing everyday struggles on top of the struggles Black individuals face.
For sophomore Olivia Sattlefield, being “Black enough” was always something she’s struggled with. Being mixed and going to school in the suburbs of Nebraska, she really felt left out from Black culture at times. It definitely didn’t help when kids at her school would tell her she didn’t “act Black” or would call her white because she didn’t fit their stereotypical version of what they thought a Black person should be.
This idea of “not being Black enough” caused her to shy away from people who looked like her in fear that they, too, wouldn’t accept her. However, as she grew up and crept out of her comfort zone, she realized that there’s no “real” way to be Black as long as she’s embracing who she is and staying true to herself.
Being labeled as “not Black enough” is isolating, invalidating, frustrating and hurtful. These are emotions stated by a few Black individuals, but felt throughout the entire community.
An identity can be cultivated through many different factors, and at times it can seem like a mixture of all of the above in addition to none of the mentioned. The Black identity is more intricately woven than measly societal standards, but what it means to be Black is in the eyes of the beholder.