I am black history tooFeb 18, 2015
Firmly in the midst of black history month, I reflex on my history. My black history. I guess that since I have always been black any history I have is black history. But I question my experience. Growing up I felt other than black. At a time when I was seeking my identity, my similarities, my differences, my culture I felt less than black. My life experience did not resemble the stories being told by black comedians. My blackness did not look anything like what I saw in the movies or on television. I was entertained by the media portrayals of blacks for the most part. In a small part I was left confused because if my experience was not one that the media recounted, maybe my experience was wrong? Maybe my experience was invalid? In group settings I had heard and definitely felt, in groups of non - blacks, that I was ‘not black enough’. In groups of other blacks I had heard and I felt, I was ‘not black enough’. Maybe I wasn’t black? Beyond skin color what does it mean to be black? Or better yet can one look black and still not be black? These were not questions that I could easily answer. For decades I struggled to find my identity. I traveled extensively in search of me. Not just the black me. On one instance, in my late twenties, I was confronted by a Russian immigrant who had only been in the country a few months. We were performing together and I guess working so closely he felt it appropriate to ask, “Why are you not like the real black americans?” Gut Punch! As a circus performer I worked in an industry that was predominantly not black. Every day of my early career I questioned how far I could go. I questioned, who would accept me? I questioned, who would hire me? Because of the questions I trained my ass off. I would not be a token. I would not be hired to fill a quota. I would not be affirmative action in action. I was like the other black americans. I was following my heart. I was putting the best me out there to survive and thrive. Two decades later that question still echoes in my head. Will my children be asked this question? Slavery existed on this continent for more than 400 years. Every descendant of slaves is a testament of strength of will and strength of body. There is not only one black experience. I grew up in the country in rural South Jersey. Culturally I have nothing in common with a black kid, who may share a birthday with me yet was born and raised in New York City. That black kid from New York City will not share the same cultural experience as another black kid from Atlanta. Yes, we are all black but we are not all the same. Who’s black identity is more valid than any other’s? I hope to pass along to my children, who’s mother is not black, that they too can proudly be black. As I have come to discover, I don’t have to identify myself as black, because I am black. I will always be black because I can not be un-black. What I have had to do is discover who I am intellectually, morally, personally. When nothing else about me is outstanding it is by the basest means that I will be described. If I am a good athlete, I will be identified as a good athlete. If I am a good writer, I will be called a good writer. Once I solidly discovered who I was I stopped questioning, as did others, why I was ‘not like other blacks’. My experience will forever be the black experience.