A Study in Blackness: What is ‘Acting Black’?

black white girl-minI have been a “white girl” for 20 years. The number of times I’ve been deemed a Nabisco cookie for my keen knowledge floors me. So, let’s talk about it. What is an Oreo, a white Black girl? What is being too white?

Diversity is not skin deep. The idea that life is an assembly line where Black people are assigned a hue and an attitude is embarrassing to the history of psychology … and your mother.

The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences, in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole. (Kazdin, Ph.D.)

Your hue is not a contractual obligation to act a certain way; Black people are humans just like anyone else and therefore vary the same. We are less falling dominoes and more a game of chess. Black people, of any shade, are complex in their own right. I have not, am not, won’t be, can’t be white.

What do you call it? Mental colorism? Race blanketing? I could key a phrase in a moment or less, but I’d rather the practice die than be defined. I spent many years struggling with identity, because my understanding of Blackness had too many nine-letter words and not enough broken English. The strangest scene in my bildungsroman was the faces that surrounded me. I’m a Black girl who “acts white,” yet the performance is generational.

I learned analytical thinking from my father, a Black man. He learned it from his father, a Black man and that trend follows my bloodline back to the biggest act of human trafficking in a nation ’s history. My skills in linguistics came from the tongue of my Black mother, who learned from her Black mother, who learned from hers. A whole history of knowledge that follows my family back to the days when our mothers knew white babies better than they knew themselves. My friends growing up were little Black girls from island shores; the Melendez family from next door; and your average share of Cindys and Saras and Beckys.  My childhood was filled with sound and color.

It befuddles me that we live in a world where race is absolute. Black people expect struggle, Hispanics expect disrespect, white people expect victory and on and on. Our education has been imbalanced to the point of erasure. Have we forgotten the pen of Frederick Douglass, the tactical brilliance of Harriet B. Tubman, the work ethic of Mary McLeod Bethune? We are so quick to associate Blackness with illiteracy and ignorance, but we forget the brilliance our melanin has held for generations. Even when we did not own ourselves, we grasped for knowledge. So, when I “act white,” it is on behalf of the brilliant Black thinkers who came before me.
The knowledge reflected in my speech is the reverberation of my people. The passion I exhibit is the uncorked angst of generations trapped in a nation with no name. My voice is vindication for silence. My audacity is passion letting you know that Blackness cannot be bought, bossed or owned anymore. I am a Black woman with diverse experiences. If my mouth makes me “act white” then my passion makes me act Muslim, my hunger makes me act Italian, my spirit makes me act Spanish, and my beauty makes me Black.
To shame me for respecting the knowledge our ancestors were once beaten for is to disrespect a legacy of resilience. I used to laugh when I was dubbed an “Oreo” or a “black white girl,” but those days are gone. I spent too many hours with my nose in books written by people that looked like just me to have my knowledge accredited to those who seek to withhold my knowledge.
Our beauty is complex, our reach is endless, and our Black is beautiful. I’d like to show you, if you’re interested, a study in Blackness. There is so much we don’t know about our culture and the place it came from. If you understood how deep Blackness is, you wouldn’t consider my actions white. Black people are rich with knowledge and complexity and I exude that every day. So, even if I “act white” my soul is Black when the scene sees its end.
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