I believe I have looked into the value the Black community puts on being White and how that created the levels of Blackness scale that my pigmentation could never achieve. It is an accusation that always bothered me growing up when I continued to speak in Standard American English over the culturally acquired variant of English that would tie me to my community. Thinking about it, there is a video of my aunt accusing me of being white at the age of 10 when my experience with white people had been regulated to teachers and the two brief friendships I explored up to that point of my life.
Accusations of my desire to educate myself within the standards set before me being juxtapositioned with some unseen desire to acquire witness through my actions always flummoxed me. I never hated my pigmentation. I enjoy the color of my skin. I love my skin. I take time to research the best products for my skin to retain its healthy nature. I dabbled in skin bleaching products to eliminate acne scars but never as an opportunity to lighten my overall brown.
In 2003, I entered the world of White while on my quest for education. After all, according to my own people, my education is supposed to be preparing me for cohabitating alongside them. And during my stent into this world, I was impressed with the sheer level of access given even at a third their state school that was not offered freely at my previous institution. And yet, despite being among the people I was informed I was secretly hoping to join, I felt no true connection with them. It was not a longing to be a part of this seemingly elusive community that held me back from falling into this community with a bastardized Uncle Tom level of eagerness, it was trying to access the true value of being White.
To be White is an American conceit. Individuals of European descent have merged into one intermingled community over the years to identify themselves based on their skin, an easy visual identifier instead of an accent. Much like the simplicity of signs and symbols, having paler skin tones in America has value. But the cost is never talked about when you check that box. And that is what this essay is about. The baggage of being White.
Let’s be clear, I am not accusing the entire group of European descendants of the past that is attached to this term in any way. I don’t embody of violence in my own term of Black but I do not deny that it is a part of the term. I carry that knowledge in my heart every time I embrace the label Black.
But I do not enjoy the willful ignorance one takes being White. To be White means bloody privilege. In order to create White America, Whites had to slaughter millions of indigenous peoples with disease, famine, microaggressions, rape, and blanket neglect to accomplish such a swift amount of land in the centuries America existed. In concert with this, White people enslaved individuals from several other countries but the shared trait of dark pigmentation to build this nation. And then after all the work was done, everyone who remains in the land has to agree to the loose idea that skin tone equates to superiority and is the visual currency we trade on.
And that level of past attached to the term White, I politely decline the offer of my own people to abandon my label of Black for White. I have no desire to be White. I don’t want to be looked at as a villain by anyone with brown or black skin nor do I want to have my value attached to something I did not have a choice over. In the same breath, I do not easily embrace Black with all its nuanced ideals based on the depth of my pigment or the curl to my hair. I carry the term in the same way politics in America are presented- the lesser of two evils.
In a lot of spaces, it equates to no choice. Black skin has been marketed as the default for bad. I can’t expect people to see beyond my skin at the offset when the laws of contamination will make most people, even my own people, look at my skin and immediately assume I am something — sexual, strong, angry, less than human. I have done some of that myself on occasion. It is disturbingly easy to fall upon the stereotypes particularly when they are enforced by personal trauma. So as I took my limited funds and knowledge into the EU last year, I had to look at me bringing my internal burdens with me. How can I look at me, see the glow of my skin as I apply moisturizer to my skin, admire the bounce back I still have and pluck the small acquisition of hairs that continues to pop up on my chin as I add another year to my temple, value my skin and the baggage being Black brings?
With a world filled to the brim of examples of Whiteness, I looked to the treatment of serial killer’s families as a key.
Say what you will in your head person of European descent with an American passport, you are living in the aftermath of your people’s slaughter every time you walk in your Whiteness in the same way I carry the oppression of being Black. And as mutual trauma victims, that is okay.