Home > Identity, Personal, Race > In search of an identity… race.

In search of an identity… race.

After Michael Jackson’s sudden death, BET announced that it would feature a Michael Jackson tribute on its annual awards show. Curious to see how this tribute would turn out, I asked my husband to flip the TV channel to BET the night of the awards show.

Jamie FoxxI watched hoping to see a well-done opening act only to find Jamie Foxx, butchering the Moonwalk and doing a poor imitation of Michael Jackson’s dance moves. I smiled, assuming Foxx was being comedic and doing the best he could. When Foxx was done, he went on a mini-rant about how Michael Jackson was a “black man” and “he belonged to us.” My husband immediately flipped the channel and said, “I am not watching anymore of this racist garbage.” He subsequently went on to ban BET from our home.

The BET Awards just shed another light on an issue that I’ve been struggling with recently—the issue of race and how it relates to my identity.

I’ve always had issues with my racial identity but the problem reared its ugly head continuously during the 2008 presidential election in which I publicly chose not to support Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s bid. Ever since, I’ve struggled with what it means to a Black Christian female and how race plays into who I am.

One question I grapple with: Does race matter? And I think, yes, for the most part, it does.

Race matters:

  • When I need to get my hair done. I need a hairdresser who can style ethnic hair. The hairdresser can be black or white but she needs to know how to wash, style, and properly treat black hair. In that sense, race matters.
  • When it comes to medical issues, there are some medications that have been proven to work better in one race than in another. Genetically, race matters.

But when it comes to my personality, does race matter? No, it does not.

In the black community, race is not just a color; it’s become a culture. Black or African American culture. (While the terms Black and African American have become interchangeable and most people seem to prefer African American, my immediate heritage is Caribbean so I’m more comfortable simply using Black.)

What comprises Black culture?

  • Music: Blues, rap, hip-hop, R&B.
  • Religion: Style of worship.
  • Race: Racial discrimination has been a part of Black history for so long that it cannot be ignored.
  • Art: There is a definitive African influence here.
  • Entertainment: Comedy and movies.
  • Food: Soul and Caribbean
  • Politics: You’re a Democrat.
  • Language

With the exception of music, race, food, and politics, I’ve never been exposed to much of Black culture. I’m an only child and grew up in a nice, suburban area of the New York metropolitan area. While the area around me was highly diverse, no one in particular influenced me; I gravitated toward whatever I thought was interesting.

I suppose in my parents’ attempt to assimilate into American culture, the culture they adopted was one influenced by whites. I went to Roman Catholic schools from K-12 and attended predominantly white parishes until I became a born again Christian at age 16. Even then, I had a white pastor.

I grew up around mostly white kids and played with the white Barbie dolls. Maybe I was reared to be who other black people call a “sellout.”

Music. My father played all different kinds of music when I was growing up: Cuban, Haitian, Marty Robinson, Nat King Cole, Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, Linda Ronstadt, Tina Turner, Dean Martin… the list could go on. My mother played Lite FM in the car so I was regularly exposed to The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Billy Joel, and other kinds of “white” music. As I got older, I found myself getting into Top 40/pop music. Personal favorites included Paula Abdul, Jodeci, SWV, and Exposé. Most of my peers were listening to Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Nirvana, Bush, and Alanis Morissette. I incorporated those artists into my music rotation as well.

Romantic interests. I found myself drawn to white guys rather than black guys. Jason Priestley, Shane McDermott, and Brad Pitt were all on my “hot guys” list growing up. My husband is white.

Language. Nothing I ever did was black enough. When I tried to speak Ebonics, I got laughed at; when I spoke normally (see: proper grammar), I got laughed at.

Racial acceptance. In high school, I tried so desperately to fit in with the “black clique,” but never felt at home. I never felt as though I could truly be myself with any of them. They were always trying to change me in one way or another: my hair was never good enough or I didn’t wear any makeup. I finally felt some acceptance when I had a relatively good-looking black boyfriend. Upon reflection, I now realize that shouldn’t have mattered.

My skin color is brown (just a shade darker than a cup of cappuccino) and my brain function is “white.” We might as well just say that I’m a white girl in a black girl’s body, right?

But I’ve purposely tried not to look at the world in terms of white and black because that’s never how I’ve seen life. I’m less likely to invoke racism that most of my black counterparts. Perhaps I’m naive.

I feel more at home, more accepted by white people than I do by black people. Perhaps I am an Uncle Tom with a slave mentality.

Black RepublicanI’ve been fortunate not to experience much racism. However, the racism I have experienced in my short life has been from other black people. I get angry when black people start criticizing other blacks for straying away from the “herd mentality”:

  • For not voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election
  • For being a Republican instead of a Democrat
  • For preferring heavy metal and hard rock music over rap and R&B
  • For choosing to date outside of their race
  • For being friends with mostly people outside of their race

I have very few black friends. The reason I lack black friends in my life is not because I’ve rejected them but because they’ve rejected me. I might like Kanye West but listening to Britney Spears disqualifies me from “being black.” Although we both are lumped together in the same racial classification, I share less in common with blacks than I do with whites or people of other races. (BTW, some of my closest friends have been of Filipino or Indian descent.)

Because I didn’t support President Obama in the 2008 presidential election, I had a lot of hurtful comments from black people thrown my way. However, one that stuck with me was “You used to be so into Black history.”

I voted against Barack Obama as president because he supports abortion rights and I do not. He has consistently promised to loosen the restrictions on abortion and I disagree with him. I couldn’t in good conscience vote for someone who I felt was advocating legal murder. The abortion issue—namely his extreme stance on it—was a dealbreaker for me in this election. I saw President Obama as a person who I fundamentally disagreed with, not as a black man I chose not to vote for.

How does race relate to who I am as a Christian? Well, for one, God made me dark-skinned. As a result, I need to wrestle with the social implications of that. It’s possible that I can be an encouragement to black visitors in my primarily white congregation. Because race has evolved into a culture for Black people, I can also share a different viewpoint and heritage with other people.

How does race relate to who I am as a woman? To be honest, I don’t know yet. Time will tell.

While I am forever in debt to Black Americans who fought long and hard for me to attain equality in this country, I feel removed from the Civil Rights struggle since I am first-generation Black American. Would I be an impostor to celebrate Black history in America when my parents were not born Americans? But then again, isn’t that the resonating story in America: immigrants coming to America and assimilating to achieve a better life? Reminds me of a song from one of my favorite musicians:

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

They’re coming to America … TODAY!

American flag

I’m 27. I’m young. I’ve got time to figure this out. In the meantime, I’ll simply slap the next black idiot who tries to tell me something about bowing to the “massa.”

  1. August 17, 2009 at 2:23 AM

    Great post! Seriously, well done.

    • Kass
      August 17, 2009 at 2:43 AM

      Thanks, Stephany. 🙂

  2. Rachael
    August 17, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    excellent! very well written!

    • Kass
      August 17, 2009 at 10:12 AM

      Thanks, Rachael!

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