Comin’ From Where I’m From

by havilandp

Just. Do. You.

In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois coined a mantra that brought to light a perspective into black social thought previously undiscussed here in the United States. The double consciousness he wrote was a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” He put in to words the black experience at the turn of the 20th century but perhaps unknown to him, someone like myself may interpret that in my own way.

I grew up in suburban upstate, New York (something that I am fiercely proud of), an only child to a white American mother and a Ghanaian father. I’m a product of the public school system and lived a pretty typical suburban middle-class lifestyle. We didn’t always have everything we wanted, but always had everything we needed. We cut coupons and I had no issues getting my swag on the TJ Maxx clearance rack or sales at Macy’s. I was a happy kid and still consider myself a happy person, glad to be who I am and grateful to be where I’m from.

Oh yeah, my hometown has a population of 1.7% black, which I supposes plays an important role in this story.

I distinctly remember as a kid growing up not really having a concept of race (like ALL kids before outside forces impose views on race upon them) – I was the only black kid in all my classes and frankly I didn’t really notice. I had plenty friends (many of whom are still great friends), played sports and race wasn’t an issue (or at least it wasn’t a concern of mine). That changed when I was in about first grade.

Our teacher marched us down the hallway to the bathroom when an older kid (he was in 2nd or 3rd grade at the time) asked me “Are you white or black?” It was very innocent and matter of fact- he was curious and I was caught off guard. I responded “Uh, I don’t know.” An answer he accepted at face value as he turned and walked away; the moment however stuck with me and I can honestly say it was the first time I had thought about race.

As I grew older in this predominantly white community, which I must say was for the most part cosmopolitan and open-minded (although not without some closed minded individuals and incidents along the way) I naturally began to develop my own identity based on my life, my surroundings and my circumstance. Race most certainly wasn’t the only factor in my search of self but for the framework of this blog, it’s the perspective that I am choosing to present my views.

I credit my mother with more love and admiration than I can possibly put in to words. She herself is a white woman who raised a black child in a predominantly white community. She shielded me from what I later learned were hideous verbal smears but she also gave me the dexterity to develop an arsenal of love and serenity to combat the ignorance and intolerance I would face coming of age. She encouraged me to discover my OWN place within any community I chose to be a part of, whether it be athletes, cellists, or the black community.

I am a black man.

I look like a black man, I am seen as a black man. I’ve been called a nigger on numerous occasions, been followed in stores, I get vastly different reactions from people when I walk down the street wearing a suit versus when I toss on a pair of sweats and a hoody despite being a college graduate. I’ve faced just about everything else that every other black man in America has to face.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am proud of who I am, proud of where I’m from and proud of where I’m going.

But my perspective is one that often goes overlooked.

Recently, President Obama brought up the subject of “acting white.” It brought up old wounds of countless points throughout my life (which continue to this day) where I’ve been accused of “being white” because I did well (not always by my parents standards) in the classroom or chose to wear a polo to school in the pre-Kanye era. I was “white” because I play tennis, “white” because I love skiing and “white” because I was able to get a good job after graduating from a good (predominantly “white”) college.

I guess what always bothered me most was the fact that in a community with so few blacks, growing up- I took some of the most vicious verbal assaults regarding race from other black kids. Don’t get me wrong it came from all other races which was sad by itself but I had always imagined a greater sense of solidarity. I thought we’d refrain from attacking one another and that’s where I can connect with the Double Consciousness. I think DuBois imagined it as being literally black and white, but in my case I think there many shades of gray, but really brown.

There were times I felt like I was on an island.

I didn’t really know how my perspective fit in to the black narrative and how that melted into the larger American narrative. It really wasn’t until high school until I really came to terms with how I wanted to fit it- I want to do me.

The double consciousness is something that is very real. I think it is still sadly quite relevant but I think that it’s a brown issue, not black and white. There are many shades to this and this blog will serve as my shade, my perspective on issues that concern me.

I encourage everyone, black, white, brown, whatever to carve their own path, spread love, respect all- but most importantly:

Just. Do. You. Whatever consciousness you may have.