Thursday, May 17, 2012

Black Girl Light World XIV:The Personal and the Political

I've received counsel to bring BGLW back home, make it more personal and deal with my own issues with racism and colorism, before trying to pull the twig out my brothers' eyes, and I think it's good advice as that's how I started the BGLW series in the first place; talking about how colorism and other forms of internalized racism had affected my ability to be loving and Christ-like and hindered true apostolic community. I never want to get so knowledgeable that I can't remember what the goal of all this is about.

I have to say that my overwhelming feeling as a child about being Black was 1) Pride in the positive sense. Black people had accomplished so much and come so far, it was obvious (to me) that we are such a strong, beautiful, unique people; didn't everyone want to be Black? And 2) confusion about why were called black. since my skin and eyes were brown and even my hair wasn't truly blue-black as much as it was the darkest possible brown. What was up with that? I did notice that there weren't many Black people at the church we went to and that, for the most part, the only other Black people I knew were my extended family. But I didn't know what to make of that, other than a vague sense that everyone Black must in some way be my family and everyone else was... everyone else. My two younger sisters and I went from pre-K at a mostly white Christian school to being homeschooled and we lived out in the country for quite awhile, so we didn't watch a lot of the same TV that other kids were watching other than PBS and there weren't a lot of Black people in my life other than those on Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, the Cosby Show, Roots, and Star Trek. In a lot of ways I am thankful for that.  My parents, especially my mom, took great pains to keep away a lot of the negative stereotypical representations of Black people from my early eyes. Unfortunately the representations that made it through were very... culture neutral/barren, though in reality "culture neutral" basically means White culture. So let it suffice to say that I wasn't familiar with Black American culture for the most part.

I think my first exposure to any kind of negative feelings or stereotypes about being Black happened when my dad began co-pastoring a church that was (and is still) a part of the RCCG denomination/movement and was mostly Nigerian. The resounding phrase of my childhood is probably, "Mst! You people! You Americans!" This also happened at about the age that I actually started to pay attention to the news and noticing that Black people were often featured and not positively. Not too many years after that my sisters and I went to public school for the first time while my mother was on the wait list for a heart transplant. I was about 8 when we moved to RCCG and 11 when I went to public school.

Now that I'm older I know that many of the Nigerian parents were looking at African American culture--at popular representations of African American culture, anyway--and not liking what they were seeing and what they feared that their children would be immersed in. Not to mention that both the parents and the kids of my church were experiencing all kinds of discrimination on all sides from White people and from African Americans. But I wasn't connected to African American culture outside of my immediate/
immediate-extended family or even a lot of American culture outside my family's tightly filtered lens. I didn't know very much about the perceptions of/assumptions about African people, all I knew was that my family wasn't completely welcome for awhile (though my mom did a lot to warming peoples hearts) and that there seemed to be this antagonism for who I was as an African American, as well as a lot of adults trying to make me conform to a culture I had literally no connection to or way of understanding and a lot of... condescension when I didn't or couldn't because I didn't know or understand the rules. I was very angry a lot of the time.  There was so much back-to-back change, and then My mom was sick, there were other intra-family issues separate from the cultural ones that hadn't been dealt with. I was very frustrated.

 So a lot of my "White-Identifying to prove I wasn't 'one of those Negroes'" wasn't actually directed at White people or White culture though that was eventual, and of course the way to prove I wasn't one of "those Negroes" was to act as White as possible.

(to be continued...)

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