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Smith: Questioning what it means to be “black enough”

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There are few things more unsettling than being told that you are not a member of your own race. It makes you question your identity, your upbringing and most importantly, your pride in being who you are.

It would be embarrassing for me to say how many times I, as well as many of my friends of color, have experienced hearing statements like these. And I get so bitterly disheartened that little kids of color, who’ve scarcely built up their identity and an unshakable love for themselves, will hear these things on their way to adulthood.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve heard the following statements in almost every setting of my life: “You’re not black” or “You’re just an oreo—black on the outside, but white on the inside.” These phrases hint at a subliminal but aggressive form of racism in our culture. It criticizes people for being themselves and suggests that there is only one way to be truly accepted in our society.

Because of my upbringing, I have never identified with most of the traditional stereotypes of black people or, at least, the most pronounced conventions. Stereotypes that suggest that black people are poor, have absent fathers or are unintelligent have never applied to me. Even more so, cultural stereotypes that imply that black people are exceptional at either basketball or track and field sports, or listen primarily to rap or hip-hop, are conventions that I either don’t identify with or only marginally so.

I grew up with a Republican father and a moderate mother. And though a lot of my viewpoints have changed since coming to this University, I still have several beliefs that are rooted in my upbringing.

I remember getting into a political debate with a teacher my freshman year of high school. My views have since changed, but at that time I expressed to her a belief that did not align with traditional democratic or left-leaning ideals — which, mind you, black people tend to identify with. And I remember, to this day, that teacher looking me in the eye and saying, “You give the black man rights and now he can’t extend the courtesy to the rest of us.”

It was one of the most harrowing and traumatic statements that anyone has ever said to me.

We often fail to believe that no matter your race, creed, religion or sexual orientation, people are people first. We all should be allowed to be the people we want to be without ridicule from an insecure world.

I present as an African-American male and, for me, that has so little to do with the things I like, dislike, believe in or practice. I’m still sympathetic to the people in my race, I enjoy being around people who look like me and I stand up a little taller when I see other black people succeeding in this life that is so very hard to navigate.

Being black and being raised by exceptional black parents binds and holds me, of course, to certain proclivities and penchants, but it’s not my whole story. It’s not even the beginning.

Josiah Smith is a third-year English and business management double major.

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Smith: Questioning what it means to be “black enough”