A former co-worker of mine used to frequently tease that I should return my "Black" card. As he saw it, I'm not black enough. He thought I was too 'uppity,' which he also thought was typical of West Indians. The strikes against my 'Blackness?' My vocabulary does not include 'gonna' or 'fit'na'; my children's names have a fair balance of consonants and vowels; I have no hood cred; thread count is important to me; and I enjoy international cuisine and international films.
When Senator Barack Obama began his primary campaign, he faced the same criticism. There was a persistent discussion about whether the presidential candidate is black enough to garner the support of African-Americans. If I weren't so irked by the inference, I would be flattered at the company I find myself in.
I am not above generalizations and even accept some as solid truths. What I don't understand is why any community would choose to saddle themselves with unflattering attributes. Black America has let a small-minded minority dictate the parameters for the rest of us. We have relinquished our identity to those who measure their own life's worth by jail stints, illegitimate children, and rim size. The ignorant have convinced our children that it is not cool or down to be smart and to make good grades. The boys on the corner have waged a public relations war against college education, convincing many that there is no future with a career and a white collar pay check. We have unwittingly (best case scenario) reclaimed the labels - lazy, shiftless, dumb - that our forefathers railed and fought against.
Presidential candidate or not, the worl' still nuh level. We cannot afford to gamble with our future and our children's future when there are still many obstacles in our way. A 20/20 edition that aired on Thursday night referenced a social experiment undertaken by ABC. The investigation showed blacks being passed by cab drivers who immediately stopped for white fares; apartments unavailable to black renters suddenly becoming available to white ones; resumes with 'black-sounding' monikers being overlooked for exact resumes with less ethnic names. It doesn't take ABC and 20/2o to tell us what we already know. The rate at which black men are pulled over and otherwise treated unfairly by the justice system is fodder for comedians. Black women get followed around department stores. Black men and women make less than comparably qualified whites.
We are starting behind the 8 ball, but we are finding ways to make our journey harder. Black or white, those with college degrees make far more than those with only a high school education. (Stephen Levitt's book Freakonomics gives a very convincing argument for why drug dealing doesn't make for a better income either.) Unless we have decided that poverty is one of the desirable badges of blackness, college should not be a white thing. If black men in suits have difficulty renting apartments and hailing cabs, then those who duck-waddle to keep their pants up should not be surprised that they attract fearful looks and police attention.
If some things are 'white' because historically only a segment of the population had access to them, then those things are now multi-hued. We all can use them to make our lives better and our experiences broader. We should not be rejecting them for fear of being perceived as less than we are. More than that, we should not let the degenerate few claim 'blackness.' Where is the outcry when someone's blackness is questioned because they are educated, successful and/or keep their underwear hidden?