“Oh, we have one of those,” the boy said.
Stunned, I gawked at him as my mind reeled in confused thoughts.
“What do you mean, ‘one of those?’” I asked.
“I’m kidding,” the boy responded, laughing along with his friend.
This was a small interaction I had with a white male student while tagging along with my best friend to a football game at the predominantly white institution she attends for graduate school. Because Trump had been saying several prejudice and racist things about black people, I took attending the football game as an opportunity to let my voice be heard and everyone at the sporting event know that I would not let anyone, especially not Trump and his supporters, make me apologize for being black. I wore a shirt that said, “Black by Popular Demand.” I am sure most of you have seen this shirt worn by various celebrities such as Charlamagne the God, Kandi Burrssus, Rapsody, and more. The shirt is self-explanatory. Black people and our culture are always in popular demand.
Initially, hearing “oh, we have one of those,” took me aback. I didn’t understand what the white male student meant. Throughout the game, his statement stuck in my mind until I finally understood. What he meant was, “Oh, no, we have another black person showing us how black they are.”
This wasn’t the first or last time a white person, in so many words, asked me to tone down my blackness. Every time I wear a t-shirt with inspiring and encouraging words about black excellence, speak with vernacular, or voice my opinions about issues that affects the black community, there is always that one white person who has to say something and denounces my blackness. Quite frankly, I’m sick of it.
For decades, black people have been taught to keep our blackness to minimum.
We can’t talk a certain way without being labeled us as uneducated, ghetto, or ratchet. We can’t dress like we want without being labeled as hoodrats and thugs. We can’t even uplift and encourage each other without being labeled prejudice against other races. Anytime we are close to being “too black,” it causes a stir. This is shown in the amount of backlash black people received for dressing in dashikis, kente cloth, head wraps, etc. for the premiere of Black Panther. Yet people take the way to talk, dress, and carry ourselves and make it their own and suddenly it’s okay.
Black people are taught to be silent about everything our culture goes through. An unarmed black man dies, we can’t protest about it. A young black girl goes missing, the families don’t get the proper assistance to find her. Someone says racist things on social media and we’re expected to accept the apology and move on. All of it is draining.
The main reason black people love to put their blackness on display is to let the world know that we will not be silenced, and our voices will be heard. When we come together and stand for our culture, it’s phenomenal. But our blackness makes people uncomfortable. Because of this, people say ignorant comments like the one I received before the football game I attended.
People are uncomfortable because we are “pushing our blackness on them too much.” But it’s okay for them to push their culture on us and to dress up in cosplay outfits for the premiere of the new Star Wars movie. Unless black people go to predominantly black schools, we never learn about culture outside of the home. We only talk about the significance of our ancestors and the remarkable figures during Black History Month. Every other month of the school year, white culture is pushed on us. The same applies for the workplace.
The moment we get to express our rich culture and root for black excellence, it’s our breath of fresh air. It’s a reminder that the things Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Shirley Chisolm, W.E.B. DuBois, and more fought so hard for are not in vain.
There has already been so much taken from black people. Asking us to act as if our culture doesn’t matter and trying to silence it is like a slap in the face. Our blackness is the one thing that has gotten us through the toughest times in American history and is what continues to help us prosper and endure the sometimes-cruel world we live in.
So, no world, I will not stop rooting for everybody black.
I will not stop voicing my opinion on issues that directly affect my people.
I will not change the way I speak or dress to make you feel more comfortable.
And I will not tone down my blackness for you.