I wrote this in 2012 but it might as well be 2018….
Seriously, what the hell?
Did my forehead just start peeling after basking in the North Berkeley sun for a mere 7 minutes?
What is the purpose of my brown skin’s melanin? I mean, “black don’t crack,” right? (Well, I think they probably mean that black folk aren’t supposed to show signs of aging, even if they’re like 105 years old)…. But maybe it means I am not supposed to crack and peel after being in the sun for 7 minutes during a 67 F day?
My mom used to joke all the time, while I was in high school, how I would not have made a ‘good’ field slave, on account that I simply couldn’t handle the sun. (Yes people, this is a joke).
So, it’s now that I must ruminate over whether or not I should be allowed to be called “black”; should my blackness card be revoked? If it takes me less than 10 minutes to burn in the sun when it’s only 67 F degrees and only 100 feet above sea level, with 35% humidity, then something has gone terribly wrong with my blackness. Over the past week, I have realized that despite having brown skin, my “cultural whiteness” has trumped my physiology.
(“Cultural whiteness”? Bare with me here….)
You know, “cultural whiteness”. I’m referring to when some stupid motherf*cker, usually a black person who thinks they are the epitome of “blackness” calls you an “Oreo” because you aren’t doing what black people are supposed to be doing. “Oreo” means you’re doing something that white folk normally do (and I guess that is by default, anti-blackness (?)). So, yesterday, I compiled a list of the top five things I have been doing, since I can remember, that have probably led me to burn in the sun, regardless of my golden brown skin tone that spray-on-tan queen Kim Kardashian would kill for.
(1) I did not attend an HBCU.(For you white folk who are like ‘huh?’, an HBCU is a historically black college or university. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what an “HBCU” was for months, upon hearing it when I was younger. Instead of asking a bonafide black person what it mean, I spent hours theorizing what that acronym could mean.)
Yup, I “sold out” and I attended Dartmouth College in the early nineties. I didn’t apply to any HBCUs (not because they were HBCUs but more because I wanted to stay in New England). I was excited about having being accepted into Smith College as well and was bummed that they didn’t offer enough financial aid for me to attend. Same with Tufts University. Loved it but it was too expensive and they didn’t offer enough. But Dartmouth did. You have to understand Dartmouth of the 90s. Uber conservative, heteronormative, dynastic elite white male privilege was what the campus climate was known for. I am pretty sure that this deeply damaged my melanin. I also developed the “sweet-itis”, which meant I was prefacing everything with “sweet!” I went from a regular Oreo to an Oreo Double Stuff!
(2) I stopped eating the ‘gospel bird’.
Yup, years ago I decided to transition into veganism. I shocked all my card carrying “I’m a bonafide black person” friends and family when I declared that I would no longer eat and poop out chicken (okay, I didn’t talk about what would be coming out of my butt… but butt hole jokes are just plain funny, in a junior high humor sort of way). I also said ‘no’ to pork-rinds and also ‘no’ to being hip and cool like so many black folk I know who enjoy bragging about how many deep fried dead animals they overdosed on at a family bbq, and then excuse themselves to go take their high blood pressure medicine and insulin for their diabetes (which is apparently a true ‘marker’ of “I am black.” Well, at least that is what the medical reports of today talk about. You know, since a true black person doesn’t know how to eat ‘right’, is ‘obese’, and needs to be ‘educated’, usually by a white girl from the mid-west who is on a ‘mission’ to bring them ‘good’ food for her college internship). My black folk also seemed rather fine about sitting out at family BBQs all day in the hot sun without even burning, cracking and peeling, so it must have been something in the gospel bird!
(3) I married a white dude.
And not just any ‘white’ dude but one of those European white dudes who is from Germany and has a doctoral degree in astrophysics. I knew I had made a mistake in performing my proper blackness when, upon hearing about my new financé, my grandmother made the comment, “I don’t know why she’s got to go and marry that white boy.” And it’s not like I got that “reminder” too late in life. I remember my Aunt who shall remain nameless (there are 5 of them so I am not giving it away) , telling my twin brother and I in high school that it was okay to date “them” but not to marry “them.” Had I taken heed earlier and found a true card carrying black man to marry, perhaps I would have reinvigorated my melanin and not burned in the sun in a rapid 9 minutes… even with SPF 30 on and a damn hat.
(4) My twin brother and I obsessed over and memorized all the songs to the musical The Sound of Music , starting in the sixth grade.
I sh*t you not. He and I spent hours and hours bouncing up and down, doing our own renditions of “Doe, a deer, a female deer. Re, a drop of golden sun.” We borrowed that VHS cassette from the Lebanon Town library a gazillion times. Or, if it were re-running on television, we’d be all excited about it. However, my twin does not burn in the sun. I think it’s because while we were in college, he wouldn’t admit that he liked or even knew the lyrics to that The Sound of Music, while I still proudly claimed that I did. He also listened to Sam Cook, John Coltrane, James Brown, DMX, and all the “how to be black and know your music” hits of the past century that I was clueless about because I was still obssesesing over my musicals, European classical music, and would quiver whenever I would hear a rap or hip hop song use the word “nigga” (which I later learned shouldn’t be confused with ‘nigger’) or “bitch”. I remember joining an a cappella group with all brown and black girls (and one token white girl named Stephanie) in college. They were excited about a new song we’d be doing. Our leader told us we’d be singing a New Edition song. I kept on asking, “A new edition of what!?” They laughed at me; one girl went up to me and tried to see if I had painted my brown arms by rubbing them, to verify if I was in fact a real black person. Amazingly, my brown skin did start smudging off… weird, no? The following week, The Fugees came to perform on campus and I kept on asking everyone, “What are the FUDGEES?” Yup, like a fudge-sicle…. go me, I’m so down…
(5) I had a mad crush on David Hasselhoff.