“Hey, you’re black, right?!”
No matter whether it’s Minneapolis or Chi-town, when I walk in the neighborhood, brothers’ll greet me with a nod or something – a signal that says, “Yeah, you’re one of us.”
After a few years of accepting that social reflex with bemused misgiving, I find myself asking “why?” Why accept that? It isn’t bad.
Still other people from other countries, or who are older and better-travelled, no matter their color or features, ask if I’m from the Middle East or from somewhere like Morocco, or India. They don’t assume anything. They make me smile even grin and then chuckle. They are cosmopolitan. They understand life outside of the United States’ typical prism of color obsession.
At the heart of this is that I do not look Black. What is it about these disparate and myopic worldviews? Of course, that begs another question that is simple and opaque at once: what does Black look like?
That may be the more important and illuminating question or concern; how Black must black be to be…Black vs simply straddling the colors, the boundaries by one’s own whim and wit? How typical or conventional must one look? How fully must one conform to Anglos’ (white people’s) image of Black in order to be either Black or to pass away from it?
It may be that each of those competing questions is as important as the other. I simply have yet to understand why North Americans of African descent do not question that someone as ethnically ambiguous as I do, may not call himself Black or half any of African in his heritage or experience.
I suspect that these questions may have sprouted while reading Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s The Passing of Anatole Broyard, a chapter and essay from his book Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.
Many years ago, I decided to discard that “one-drop-rule” chip from my shoulder – I was going to ignore North America’s demands; I was going to be multicultural and colored or “of color.”
As with far too many phenomena, Anglo America appoints itself to define and encode that. As bizarre, hard, and contradictory as it might be, I chose to occupy that fluid multiethnic crevasse during the turn of the century. It coincided with the 2000 U.S. Census.