Growing Up Beige: Appropriating the Struggle

I remember one day back in college, sitting in the computer lab with one of my friends.

She got frustrated suddenly, and when I asked what was wrong, she points to her screen at some girl’s Facebook page.

“I used to be good friends with this girl in high school.”

She continued on about their friendship and why they were no longer close.

They used to go to concerts all the time together, rock and metal shows with mosh pits and all that. The girl was biracial, half black, half white. In high school, she wore her hair straightened, wore skater clothing brands, and was wholly ignorant to black culture. The Facebook page I was looking at, however, showed a curly-haired girl, with post after post of shared news stories of gentrification in the city, think pieces on race, and general politics. Something had clearly changed since high school with this girl, and my friend wasn’t buying it.

The most recent of her postings was an article talking about the last high rise projects in North Philly. I can’t really remember the opinion of the piece, but the girl shared hers along with the article link. And whatever her stance was, it pissed my friend off.

My friend lived in that area of town. She shared her frustration over how article apparently oversimplified the issues, and how this girl was not only misguided in her opinion, but also had no business speaking on matters she didn’t understand. Then came her biggest issue about this girl, and at that point she said something that has stuck in my mind ever since.

“I can’t just take this off,” she said as she extended her arm and rubbed her brown skin.

Hearing that struck a conflicting chord. I simultaneously empathized with my friend’s rage, and sympathized with this girl’s identity struggle.

I am understanding the beige area, as I’m going to coin it, as the space in between these two feelings.

I am black.

I haven’t always accepted that, and I was kind of allowed to deny it, so I did. I can claim blackness, and I can just as easily renounce my race when it inconveniences me to be so. And honestly I found it to be an inconvenience for most of my life.

While I still struggle with my past upsets over my racial identity, I recognize and admit that I’ve been wrong and severely misguided. Injustice seems a whole lot more important than my pride and hurt feelings, and I don’t want to exploit this racial loophole as some kind of advantage anymore. It’s not one. I’m paying for my ignorance now as I try to work backwards seeking a foundation I didn’t think I needed for years.

What I don’t want to do through this process is to fake a hardship that I didn’t suffer through. What I don’t want to do is speak out of my backside about issues that have never pertained to me. I’m black, sure. But I don’t share or even know all black struggles, and I’m not going to act like I do. I will not and don’t need to appropriate the struggle in order to join the cause.

And I’ll join by speaking what I know, and learning and supporting what I don’t. My issues as a light-skinned Black American aren’t going to be recognized as real struggles to some. I get it, but I don’t really care. It’s my only vantage point, and I think as many shades of the Black American perspective that can be shared, should be shared and respected. We need to understand where we’re all coming from so we can collectively work towards one direction for the better. Colorism is maintaining division and distracting us from moving forward. It’s more complex than that, yes. But we have to start somewhere.

I want to hear perspectives and connect with different views and more insights, so you’ll find mine here, piece by piece.

Advertisements

Diet Black

Soooo it’s fall!!! Which means CHANGE! And I’m excited because now I live in a place where it truly does mean change. I forgot that leaves change colors til I moved back here to Philadelphia. I like it! And I get to wear scarves everyday without looking inappropriate. It’s great! But besides the scarves, I’m kind of unprepared for the coming cold.

I have to go out and buy a comforter now. I need to dig out all of my long sleeves and sweaters from the murky depths of my closet. I also have to work on repairing all the sun damage my skin suffered this past summer.

Yes, sun damage.

Like…sunburn.

I don’t get it either. Maybe all of those kids who called me ‘white girl’ growing up were right after all.

I’ve been a victim of sunburn for the third year in a row. I don’t know what’s going on with the world and this climate change business, I should probably read more. But there’s definitely SOMETHING happening. And it’s not good news for all the mulattos out there dealing with issues we’ve never had to deal with. It’s a problem I’m just not equipped to handle or even recognize, for that matter.

Anyone who has seen me in recent days might have noticed some strange discoloration on my nose. Like patches of brown and pink in a marbled pattern. That would be a colony of scabs and raw flesh that you see. Because in my world, or what I thought was my world, I see skin peeling off of my face and I’m thinking, TIME TO EXFOLIATE.

So I scrub the dead skin off. Beat it like it stole something. Wake up the next day, walk into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and WHAT THE FEEZY?

My nose is just black. And not in the sense that I’m black, but the color black. A scab totally took over the middle of my face. And I just thought to myself, dammit not again…

The first time this happened, I was in high school, and I had to show my face in class that day. I walk up to my peoples and they just stared at my nose. Didn’t even ask, but waited for an explanation.

“See, what had happened was…

I told them my skin was peeling and so I sloughed off the dead skin with an exfoliating face wash. They didn’t seem as dumbfounded by the results as I was…

“You moron, you don’t scrub sunburn! That makes it worse!!!”

Sun…

burn..? 

You mean that thing that happens to white people?

HAH! Yeah right, as if I could get sunburn. I’m too melanin for such things.

After years and years of being everyone’s cultural experience in the ‘burbs like I’m some ambassador for blackness, my white friends finally taught me something. Something about their world. And they can have it back.

My nose is healing little by little. Probably would be alleviated completely by now if I didn’t stop scrubbing it, but I still don’t get it I guess. I’m actually going to have to wear sunscreen next summer. I dread the very thought. That stuff smells weird.

So now I’m kind of worried. What is to become of the other little perks of being kinda black that I happily indulge in everyday? My melanin advantage isn’t the only thing that’s been threatened recently.

I feel like I’m also losing my edge in interracial social dynamics.

Confession folks, I greatly enjoy using the ignorance of white people to my advantage whenever I can. I grew up in the suburbs of various cities, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can get what I want on many an occasion by just adding emphasis on my ethnicity. For some reason, white people seem to think that every non stereotypical black American is like a ticking time bomb of rachet, and you never know when it will go off. Like it’s a stagnant part of our personality that can be triggered at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction with anything and everything. They will do anything to avoid seeing it come out. It’s hilarious. Exploiting that preconception is a common tactic I use in customer service. It’s probably wrong, but whatever. This is essentially my face when guests act a fool at work…

 “I’m sorry, what did you say was wrong with your meal? Nothing? That’s what I thought.”

It also doesn’t hurt that I’m 5’12″(YES, FIVE FEET TWELVE INCHES), and I rock my hair natural now. I just ooze intimidating from my blackish pores.

If you didn’t know already, I’m pretty awkward socially. I might make a post about it, or a couple, in the future, but one way I manage to socialize with people is to just drag them down to the world of awkward, where I call home, and then seize control of the conversation. Once everyone is good and uncomfortable, then good conversating can commence. I’ve always thought I looked pretty black, but I constantly get asked what I am, so I always take this opportunity to flop the conversation, and reply with, “Other.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever I want it to mean.”

“……”

Or,

“Wow, I like your hair!”

“Thanks, it’s a little more ethnic than normal today, but it’s still rockin’ I think.”

“…It’s what?”

“A little more ethnic than usual.”

“……”

Because social interaction is much more fun when neither of us know what to say next.

I can’t lose this on top of my solar immunity, people. How will I ever make new friends? Okay I have a couple other ways to throw people off. Like,

“Hey are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!” ,’:)

Or,

“Can you turn on the air? I’m hot.”
IN MORE WAYS THAN ONEEEEE!” ‘,:)

But you kinda have to wait around for people to say those. And I do. I look a little too forward to it…

“How are you?”

“I’m f—”

IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!”

“—eeling alright…”

O_o …

    …    o_O

*backs away slowly*

But you know what never needs to be welcomed into conversation? Race jokes. I know, I’m the problem. Sorry, but it’s one of the few advantages I get. Let me have this!