If you are an African American how do you define what it is to be black? If you are not black, how do you define what black looks like to you? Every since I can remember, I've noticed how being black has always carried a negative connotation. Everything from being associated with evil or darkness, to black men labeled as thugs, menacing individuals, lazy folks or uneductated. But I'm here to tell you black is much more than that. Author Touré briefly speaks about these issues in his book titled, "Who's Afraid of Post Blackness?"
Touré talks about the many labels that are placed upon African Americans and the way African Americans place themselves in a box after succumbing to the perception of what they believe it is to be black. African Americans are often told to be what a stereotypical black person is by those who aren't even African American. How ridiculous is that when we all come from different backgrounds no matter how similar we look? When I read this book, I felt as though I had come across a book that spoke directly to me about what I went through growing up and what I percieved my place in the world.
All too often as a young kid I was critisized by those in my neighborhood for my intelligence, being accepted into private schools, accelerated programs, earning good grades and told I wasn't black enough. Too many times in my private school or in the suburbs it was assumed I was not smart, a charity case, or a thug by my caucasion contempararies. It wasn't until ninth grade that I was fully comfortable with who I was and didn't care about fitting in or what anyone else thought.
I was taught that there are people in the world that will always place limits on you and tell you what you can't do. But I should make sure I never became one of those people, meaning never limit myself. How dumb is it for my peers to tell me I wasn't black enough for excelling in school? Did they not realize that was a direct insult to themselves? Did they not see that those beliefs reflected the perception that our race wasn't capable of excelling academically?
We weren't born to be solely gangsters, athletes, musicians or failures. We were born to be doctors, lawyers, dentists, athletes, musicians, mailmen, librarians, and any or everything we want to be. Negative connotations of African Americans are why we see discrimintation on a daily basis; why police stop us for no reason, and why women clutch their purses when we walk past. I had a friend who summed it up best in the form of a joke. He said, "White people will do things like jump out of a plane or swim with sharks, but are afraid to walk past a black man."
The crazy thing about the joke is, for many, this is true and shameful all at the same time. It's a shame that years of the media conditioning everyone with negative images of African Americans, and in some cases are own peers, have perpetuated these stereotypes. That somene is more afraid to walk near me than to drop out of a plane several thousand feet in the air is astounding but also a reality. Close your eyes, think of a crime or a criminal. Nine times out of ten the person involved that you pictured was probably black.
This same type of racial profiling is exactly why our prisons are disproportionately filled with minorities when studies show they are no more likely to commit violent crimes than any other race. Be someone who helps to put an end to this by simply letting people be whoever they are and whoever they want to be. As long as it's to be successful, productive, and to bring positivity into the world, who are you to tell them what they can or cannot be or what their goals should be?
Now I know it takes a lot more than that to change this issue, as it's a social econonic issue and systematic racism that really makes up the crux of such problems. But it is a start, and we will never get anywhere when we don't look for solutions or starting points based on how insurmountable problems may seem. So ask yourself again, what does it mean to be black? It means everything, because black is everything.