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What Does It Mean to Be Black?



"Is you mixed?"

"You know you're black, right?"

Those are just a few of the things I heard growing up, from my black peers, as a biracial kid who thought of himself more as Matt, rather than about his racial identity. If anything, the more pressing minority status at the time was being homosexual, as it seemed to create more issues with people than anything else. Regardless, I've always struggled with what it means to be black and, as time has gone on, it has oddly not become any easier to navigate.

One thing to understand first is that, aside from the obvious biological aspect, there is a personal component to my desire of having the biracial definition applied. My father was black. My mother is white. With them come the requisite lineage. Whenever someone refers to me as being either "black" or (a lot less common) "white," it engenders a mental and, sometimes, physical pain. I think of the parent that such a label erases, of the aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins whom it ignores. That, I cannot abide.

What of the African-Americans who, upon hearing my aforementioned reasoning, become frustrated and say, "You know that, in this world, in this country, you're considered black? Don't no one care that your momma is white!" That's a fair point. I am fully cognizant of the fact that, in certain places, someone will look at me and see only a black person. It crosses my mind every time I'm in a rural area, or if I'm in a situation where I'm the only person of color. But I don't live my life for them. And I certainly do not allow such people to define who I am.

Perhaps, most importantly, the question shouldn't be whether society considers someone like myself -- or Barack Obama -- black or biracial or whatever, but what does it mean to be black in America? Why does it matter (not saying it doesn't, but why does it), and how is it defined? Do we go simply by pigmentation? Parentage? The unavoidably racist One-drop rule? The type of music one listens to? The clothing a person wears? The way someone speaks? Their home decor? An overall awareness? All of the above? None of it?

Earlier I mentioned that this is a reality that has not gotten any easier to navigate as time has gone by. This is telling in that it reflects how my attitude hasn't changed, and neither has society's. Whenever the local paper mentions my racial ethnicity, they always refer to me as "black." That is society. I consider myself to be proudly black & white. That is who I am. It would appear likely that, at least within my lifetime, never the twain shall meet. So it goes.


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