Running the race treadmill
I’m always thinking about issues of race.
No, no, not Jesse Jackson-type issues. More like fitting in with the black community-type issues.
You see, I’ve always had a problem of “not fitting in” with the black community. I am not your typical black person. I don’t “talk” black, I don’t really listen to “black music,” and I don’t have a lot of black friends. I’ve always felt more comfortable around other races. My friends are mostly white with a Filipino here and an Indian there. Sometimes I wonder if God made my skin the wrong color. (I wonder that but I don’t believe He did.)
- I always thought white Barbie was prettier than black barbie. I’m not alone; there are studies that show other black children agree with me.
- I am not a fan of the first “black” president of the United States. (Technically, he’s biracial so he’s not a full-fledged black president.) This has caused me to lose many of the black “friends” that I had. (Perhaps you could argue they were never really friends to begin with if political differences divided us?)
- I love a white boy band called The Beatles. They are quite possibly my favorite band ever. (But I also happen to like ‘NSYNC too.)
Should I make a joke about Michael Jackson here? No, that would be rude. RIP, King of Pop.
When I was growing up, my black classmates made fun of me. I listened to Z100, New York’s Top 40 station that played mostly white music. I listened to the station back in the ’90s when grunge was all the rage. Bands like Nirvana, Bush, and Pearl Jam had melodies that spoke to me. The music was edgy, some of it dark, and allowed me to throw on a flannel shirt, sit in a corner, and softly rock myself about how much my life sucked. (Not a typical black thing to do.) At the end of the ’90s, former Disney Mouseketeers Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake (frontman of ‘NSYNC) took the pop music world by storm and I soon found myself discarding that tattered, flannel shirt for happier, upbeat melodies. At the turn of the millennium, I discovered music that I previously had no access to thanks to Napster. Sure, the download quality was poor but I could finally indulge myself in horrible songs without buying them. (I have since found better ways to listen to Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.)
I don’t even sound black. When I first talked to my now-husband over the phone, he admitted that I didn’t sound like a typical black person. I grew up reading Sweet Valley books (gosh, that dates me) and Nancy Drew so I sounded like a white girl. (I still do. Like, totally.) As a teen, I browsed the dictionary in an effort to expand my vocabulary for the English portion of the SATs (which have been completely revamped since I sat for that test).
In the past, I’ve been celebrated for my academic achievements as a black person, as if to say, “Wow! You’re really exceptional academically! For a black person.” My SAT score wasn’t good enough to be a National Merit Scholar; that was reserved for white people who could actually do well. No, my SAT score landed me as a National Achievement Scholar—a merit category reserved for black people. And quite frankly, my SAT score wasn’t that good. In fact, my math score was so poor that when I entered NYU, I was required to take remedial math. (The TA [Teacher’s Assistant] really started off the class with introducing us to the basics of math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Sigh.)
NYU cost $35K when I went there. (Lord, have mercy, that really dates me.) $18K of that was paid through grants because… of my skin color. I spoke to an Asian girl recently who told me that, even though she got in to NYU, she received no grants because of her heritage and therefore could not afford to attend the university. I didn’t know what to make of that.
I remember on Election Day 2008, one of my few black friends called and left me this long voicemail about why I should vote for Barack Obama as president of the United States. She said, “You used to be so into black history. What happened?”
I don’t ever remember being so into black history. I make it a point to know about black American history but not enough to teach a bloody course on it. (Fun fact: Did you know that manual traffic lights were invented by a black person? It’s true. I did a biography on Garrett Morgan back in the day.) When I was into poetry, I loved Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Langston Hughes. I enjoy occasionally reading Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American author, but her work can get a little too dark for me. I’m familiar with Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. But goshdarnit, I didn’t know how to say Mahalia (Ma-HAIL-ee-yah) Jackson’s name correctly. Now, I couldn’t care less if Jay-Z and Beyoncé took a crap. I think it’s important to be aware of accomplishments by black people, but also by other people of color. For goodness’ sake, tell me about a historical Asian-American? I’m sure more Hispanic-Americans than Caesar Chavez made a difference in the lives of others in America. I suppose I’ll have to supplement my son’s learning in school. Surely enough, he’ll learn about George Washington and Harriet Beecher Stowe. I hope he also learns about George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman.
I keep running the race treadmill. Constantly peeking into every crevice of my life to discover what makes me authentically black. I don’t even know why I care. Maybe because I want to feel like a legitimate black woman.
However, I probably never will.