Embracing My Inner Oreo: Am I “Black” Enough?

f2506d3a9e644f6f5a6edd82e059116fI don’t know if it’s because of my recent move to an area, which at the best of times- is probably one of the least diverse places (yea yea…I’m sure I am statistically incorrect, and this by the way is NOT a dig on the area…). Due to this lack of “cultural diversity”, I feel like I am the go-to for all things non-white, in my immediate circle. This got me thinking, no matter the intricacies of my internal struggles with race and how “Black” I perceive myself- the world still views me in a much more visceral/”Black/White” sense (pun somewhat intended). So read on with this blog post, because I’m not sure myself where it will lead, it’s kind of a semi-rant or mental purge.

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I will throw it out there that I don’t like labels, whether it be for issues like racism, homophobia or sexism; classifications like  Canadian, Indian, Northern or just a way to better identify a person or a situation. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that as humans, we “need” to use labels as a way  for us to better understand and “classify” each other. We make assumptions about people almost constantly, as a way to categorize and maybe for use to find a way to “relate” with our peers or otherwise. My issue with it all, is that we as said humans are not singular or single issue beings, we’re all interconnected and intertwined in many different forms. I can be a flawed mother, a sexual being, complicated with unresolved issues (none of which I am admitting to, it was merely an example). Just the same as someone can be an engineer, who is also a poet, who happens to love collecting stamps. Why we simply expect to be able to tick one box and, like magic sum up our whole identity or human experience confuses me and to be fair lately, it’s been irritating me.

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We have touched on our “struggle” with our own racial identity in a previous post (What The Race?), but it’s become much more relevant to me, not only because I have a mixed raced daughter, but probably because I feel much more strongly the importance of her not losing her “Blackness”. Trust me when I say this, I am fully aware of the irony of this statement, as I have previously stated that I do NOT want in any way to impose my idea of what her identity/ethnicity should be or is- I am fully aware that this will be something she may struggle with, but she will also come to on her own. I cannot control her journey, but I am aware that I will play a part in its shape.

Lately, I have suddenly began “re-hearing” the comments I endured in high school, where I was often called an “Oreo”, by yes, Black classmates. For those of you who do not know, it’s supposed to mean someone who appears to be Black on the outside (skin colour), but is White on the inside (the way I behaved/spoke). Offence aside, I feel the pull to become almost MORE comfortable in my Blackness, in order to ensure at least a 1/4 of it rubs off on my daughter…is that bad? Yea…it probably is. Especially for her, as no matter how she identifies herself, people will ALWAYS see her as Black, no matter her shade, no matter the texture of her hair- hell after our move- it only took 7 weeks for a child to call her out and say that they weren’t alike as she was Black and he was White. This thoroughly annoyed her as she sees herself and her father as “not in a colour”; she continues to ask me when her colour will “set in”…👀

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We have stated previously, 10 Best Things Of Growing Up West Indian, that we are born to West Indian parents and I, (R1), in particular was born in the Caribbean, and emigrated the Canada as a very young child- therefore my influences, were not of a STRONG Caribbean context other than certain times per year. My mother didn’t speak with an accent, she NEVER introduced us to Soca music (she hates it), she never praised Jump Up and JabJab (look it up), she is a staunch Pentecostal. Our mother is patriotic, but not particularly in your face about it; maybe partially because of these reasons, as kids, we “acted” more “White” to others, but that’s not to say that we didn’t identify as Black- of course we did, because after all, we ARE Black.

5-6 years ago, I transitioned my hair from perming, to being completely natural- I didn’t do this because of the trend, I simply did it because I didn’t like the damage perming was having on my hair…I have always loved the aesthetic of African prints and the gorgeous women wearing elaborate head wraps and have been in awe of the culture and the reverence that comes with the wraps. For all intents and purposes, Grenada has not retained very many of it’s original African, Indian or French ancestry- it is pretty much Little Britain/America. Certain hints remain in the food and the names of the parishes on the island, but it doesn’t have a strong “tribal” culture that I can pass on to my daughter. Unfortunately, I have NEVER had the courage to even buy an African print headscarf, because I don’t believe I’m Black enough. I’m not talking my colour- I’m talking for the mere fact that as far as I know, I am not of African decent (in the short term ancestral links), I do not want to be seen as “playing dress up” or “appropriating” a culture or cultures I don’t know much about. But mostly, I’m not sure I’m prepared to be so “outwardly Black” for others to see…maybe it’s recently moving to an area that’s no where near culturally diverse; I know they see my skin, but for all intents and purposes, I am non-threatening in my Blackness. e982ccf030aa5b251340461566106d6eI am a palatable “Black woman”, I am well spoken, I do not have a foreign accent (yes it’s Canadian, but that doesn’t count…hehe), I dress in a modern fashion and the added language I speak is French, not a rarely known dialect; although sometimes Quebecois can seem like it 🤣. (holla at my MTL peeps).

Crowning my Afro hair in an elaborate head wrap-might push them over the edge in people’s acceptance of me. It’s almost like being palatable to White culture, makes you non-threatening and more widely accepted. I accept that this might be hugely ego focused and that the people of this town/area could care less about how I dress and what I wear on my head…that is definitely a possibility. What I’ve come to realise, is that I can only be myself, and I can only choose to dress how I feel, it’s how I express who I am and I shouldn’t think too much about how that makes me appear to others, because after all- it would be their issue and not mine.

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Maybe I’m coming of age and this is a sign of maturity, but I feel like I’m becoming my best self and unapologetically Black! So here I am, at 33 years old and totally over thinking it, but in lieu of wanting to show and teach my daughter to be more comfortable in her skin; I need to just go for it, but what I NEED is to be hopping onto the Slay Train and looking FIERCE like these women in the shot above 🙌.

What tips and tools do you use to be 100% authentically you? Let us know!

Resources:

Artwork: Nyanzad & Pinterest     Photo: Head Wrap Group Shot

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