Being Black In White Spaces

I have spent most of my life moving between spaces that do not always converge. At the beginning of my life I passionately disclaimed both, actively pursuing a life of intellect and hedonism as the options presented themselves. I never fit squarely into either set; I made myself into a fluid–almost secret–entity, professing and proselytizing a sort of best of both worlds, if you will. I was the ultimate mash-up album: Jay Z dubbed atop The Beatles.

In my old(er) age and as a parent, I look back on my totally black-and-proud upbringing and subsequent experiences as the lone black girl in a sea of whiteness with some degree of disjointedness. How did this dual way of living alter me? How did it affect who I am today? And how did I come to choose pro-Blackness in my later life when I had spent so much time walking the line before?

One element that I know pushed me into embracing my blackness was the very real fact that anywhere else–everywhere else that was not “black” I was never fully acceptable or accepted. Even as a part of the “in” crowd, I got left out of the real “in” when it counted. The conversations lacked context for me; the inside jokes brought revelations that I was not always invited–even though I was always invited. I guess the best analogy would be the deals made on the private golf courses of America everywhere, where most women and people of color are rarely invited. I totally had a seat at the conference table, but never at country club.

And it is like that out here for black people like me. We strive for the excellence that our parents and grandparents had zero access to attain amid years of utter dehumanizing history. We try to make up for the ravages of years steeped in oppression and omits. We press our way into back doors, and board rooms, and ‘whites only’ spaces in ways that may sometimes make our kin feel that we have abandoned our communities… Only to find that when we get there, the physical location is available but the access still is not. And that other that we have strived so hard to be–not completely anything at all so that we can move in spaces not always easy to get to begins to chafe. We realize that who we are at our core is not so fluid.

We are black. And black is not just music or dance; it is not a way of dress or hair style; it is not even an insane amount of life-giving melanin. To be Black is an all-encompassing shape shifting reality that cannot be expressed. It cannot be washed off like dirt or cleaned up like glass or shed like skin. It is nothing and everything all at once.

It is existential sounding, right? Almost silly trying to describe it. Yet I know every black person on this earth knows exactly what I mean when I say you just know it when you see it–and when you don’t. It is a collection of experiences that you can imitate but never, ever successfully fake for long that connects every black person out there from the lightest skin and eyes to the darkest palms and pupils. It is a badge of honor and horror and humility and hubris that no other group can claim, even as other cultures scrape the surface for fads and trends while scrapping the rest as undesirable and unimportant.

So now I wear my blackness like I wear my skin. I commandeer spaces not meant for my blackness and bend them to my point of view instead of toning down who I know I am for public consumption. I have taken on the quality of blackness, blending every hue of life into my own and not trying to reflect them. I am black, standing out in white spaces, a glaring but necessary anomaly making it possible for every color in between the two to exist. I welcome all; I reject none. My blackness has become NOT the opposite of light, but the thing that absorbs it and emanates the heat to warm others along the way.

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