Black Women's Improvement Project (BWIP)

I Don’t Need to Know How to Be Black (and You Don’t Need to Know How Either)

So, one of my favorite bloggers, Baratunde Thurston, who happens to be the Director of Digital for The Onion (the funniest paper in America, according to me) and co-founder of the black political blog, Jack and Jill Politics, has a new book coming out titled How to Be Black. After browsing the webpage for the book it became obvious that How to Be Black will be both funny and political and since I love politics and I know I’m funny (in person, anyways) I’m considering picking up the book. But the book’s title made me ponder a deeper question, namely why are we still talking about how to be black in 2012?

The very title of the book implies that there is not only a way to be black, but that there is a way to not be black, as if there is something one can say or do to get your ‘black card’ pulled. The ‘black card’ is an imaginary card that black folks apparently receive at birth which can be revoked if they say or do something that has not been preapproved by the guardians of authentic blackness. Newsflash: there is no such thing as authentic blackness. All forms of blackness–if you consider yourself black–are just as real and authentic as any other form. There are no preapproved activities that black people must take part in; there are no activities that black people must avoid; there is no board of directors enacting rules and regulations for the good governance of black folks. However from the number of lists that pop up around the internet from time to time letting one know the things that a black person can do to get their ‘black card’ yanked, you would think that the Committee for All Things Black and Black-Related actually existed. After you have spent years of your life having your behavior molded and curbed by those who seek to put a limit on how you are supposed to behave as a black person, eventually you put those limits on yourself and attempt to inflict them on other people too.

Most of us already know that black women lead the most segregated lives in America in terms of dating. Black people still cluster in predominately black areas across this country, namely major cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Black people even cluster in certain majors during college. It seems to me that black people may actually be overly preoccupied with trying to be ‘authentically’ black and as a result we are keeping ourselves from reaping the full benefits of being a citizen in America and other nations in the western world. When black women limit themselves in the name of blackness they willingly choose to forgo myriad benefits that come from being a free citizen in a first world nation.

One of the main reasons black communities remain impoverished is because too many people are doing the same things, coming up with the same ideas, and attempting to punish other people for not adhering to prescribed ‘black’ behavior. For instance I once remarked that I wanted to learn how to ice skate, a black women who overhead me said that black people roller skate–ice skating is for white people. How many litte black girls could have been famous figure skaters if it were not for some adult telling them that ice skating is white people? How many predominately black communities would have ice skating rinks for hockey and figure skating if a critical mass of black folks had not succumbed to the idea that black folks aren’t supposed to like ice and cold weather?

We now live in a day and age when most of what is holding black people–black women in particular–back is often our own self-limiting thoughts and behaviors. Change your thinking, change your life as the saying goes.

I wish Babatunde well on his book launch, but I hope books like his are part of a dying genre.

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