To be Black or not to be Black. That is a question, isn’t it.

It didn’t hit me until last night where I lived and how I lived until yesterday.  I had to teach all day, and I had plans to meet two peeps at “The Mall” for a few drinks and conversation.  More drinks than conversation, hopefully.  So there I was, getting off at the Smithsonian stop, and looking at the Capital building in front of me, with the National Monument behind me.  And tourists.  Buckets and buckets of tourists.  I mean, it took me this long to realize that I could come here anytime I wanted to. I just never did.  It was sort of nice, actually.

I have certain friends that I spend time talking about certain things.  Some friends, I talk about politics.  Some friends, I talk about religion. Some friends, I talk about race.  This particular conversation yesterday, me and a friend discussed the different levels of the black community.  Mostly in DC, but everywhere.  You have the rich, professional blacks and you have the rougher, more urban blacks.  My friend and I sit in the middle.  I tend to dress as simply as possible, blue jeans and a shirt, and I don’t convey that I have a Master’s degree or that I teach English.  Honestly, I’d rather people judge me by what I do and how I do it, not how I dress, even though how I dress is tied to what I do and how I do things.  My friend is obviously educated, just by looking at her.  Smart, attractive, assertive.  But she doesn’t like to be hymned in by a status.  Of course, half way through the conversation, I make the point I always make.

“It’s not race,” I said to her.  “It’s class.”

Economics.  That is what matters.  She didn’t agree, citing all the trails and problems the black community has had to go through.  I agree, to a point, but I don’t like to be thought of as a Black man.  I’ve never liked it.  I like to be thought of as simply as a man.  You don’t say that a German guy is German.  You don’t say an Italian is an Italian.  But the darker the skin, the more it is special, the more it is called out. There are probably tons of reasons for this.  None of these reasons matter to me. Until we work together, as a people, we will never have a beautiful  world.

How many people who see me on the street see me as a Black man?  How many people latch stereotypes to me?  How much does that hang on me?  Thinking about that isn’t really worth much of my time.

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3 thoughts on “To be Black or not to be Black. That is a question, isn’t it.

  1. As usual, Jarvis, I find myself agreeing with you here. Though it may seem counter-intuitive for a product of the South, I too tend to think of things more along socio-economic lines than racial lines. Truthfully, I’ve felt that way most of my life.

    I grew up poor and white during the early 1980s, a time when the myth of the welfare mother bilking the system was as menacing as the cartoon Communist threat that powered our defense spending. I understood that, culturally speaking, there was this classic brand of racial tension at play in the rural south, but I was lucky enough not to be indoctrinated with such hate.

    Instead I began to notice that it wasn’t always the color of your skin that determined how others thought of you, but very often the contents of your wallet. Even in my adult life, when I’ve managed to work my way up to middle class, I still often see things as simple as daily interactions as very class-dependent.

    • I think the South deals more with Class than most people think. I firmly believe we just use the wrong words. “This White Guys” is a guy in a middle class range, but a “Red Neck” is poorer. A “Black guy” might have more money than “That Thug” or “That homeless dude”. I have a bunch more I want to add to this post. Thanks for chiming in. And update might happen tonight. Much love, brother.

      • Right back at you, man. I think we are perfect examples of the fact that the contemporary “white southern experience” and “black southern experience” are far more similar than most want to admit. We all struggle with an underfunded educational system, general cultural malaise and a strange sort of institutionalized political apathy. There’s this pervasive impression that there are these cultural roles we fall into determined by the color of our skin, but at the end of the day these are social constructs more dependent upon class. The working class is a veritable hodge-podge of multi-cultural America.

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