Can you be black?
I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a while and finally decided to go for it.
It might end up as just a mini rant, but since this is my space on the internet and I can fill it with whatever I like, then that is what I am going to do.
Ok, so I was recently ‘irrationally’ irritated by a blog post from an author who had won some prize or other, who said something along the lines of “As soon as I started writing this character, I knew she would be black.”
I’ve probably seen or heard phrases like this countless times in my life, but for some reason, this was the one that got my back up. From then on, I have noticed it everywhere, pretty much daily.
The latest being a piece on the Guardian asking if Hermione (of Harry Potter fame) can be black.
Being black? Back to the original author I mentioned … Obviously, what she really meant, was that her character would have skin that had high levels of melanin, but that isn’t what was implied. Being black isn’t actually a thing. You can’t be a colour.
And here’s why:
Underneath the skin, black, white or whatever, we are all the same. We get up. We live. We love. We breathe. We hurt. We cry. We smile. We laugh. We feel. We hope. We sleep. We dream.
Of the things that contribute to my being, my skin colour is not up there at the top of the list. Having a darker skintone than 95% of the people I know, brings nothing to the table. Literally, not one thing.
It’s not like music comes on and I start dancing in perfect rhythmic waves, akin to being part of the very track that is playing. Because you know, black people got groove yo.
I don’t twerk round the supermarket.
Nor is it a case of hearing a starting pistol being fired, or more likely the announcement over the tannoy, again in the supermarket that they have reduced all bakery products by 60%, followed by me hurtling 100m in 10 seconds. Because black people run fast yo.
Oh, and I am not even 5ft tall, so basketball is out. Because black people can jump yo.
It would be laughable if it wasn’t so outdated, the idea that you can lump folk together and assume a mass set of behaviours based purely on the colour of their skin.
That said though, I have no disrespect for people who do wish to be identified as black and are proud of it. I understand that a lot has had to change for me to be here at this point in time, born in a land where I have freedom, not born to be someone’s slave, free to sit next to whoever I want to on the bus. I am far enough removed to expect that my life should be no different to anyone else I know.
But then I read stories stating that in London, ‘ethnically diverse’ people are stopped and searched more often than their counterparts who have lighter coloured skin.
Or hearing young poets on youtube talking about how, as people with darker coloured skin, they have to be extra careful not to do anything that could cause them to be shot at by the police, because again, their skin colour might or might not be more provocative depending on their melanin levels.
I’ve been relatively ‘lucky’, I suppose. I’ve not experienced much racism.
When I was at secondary school, one boy called me ‘chocolate drop.’
In my early 20s, I had a falling out with a friend and on a visit to a mutal chum she had checked if ‘that black thing’ would be coming around.
When I had my first baby, someone I knew only very remotely asked if she could peek in the pram and look at the baby. Then she confidently asserted that she could see the negro in her.
Even people I knew well told me they were excited to see how my baby would come out, because they’d never seen a ‘black baby’ before. They weren’t being horrible and that might not be racism as such, but it still made me furrow my brow. Much like when I was school people would ask if they could touch my hair.
I understood that curiosity because I was the only ‘ethnically diverse’ person I knew until my teens. There was Floella Benjamin and Andi Peters on the TV, but that was about it.
Also, unless the colours I was taught at school were incorrect, most people who have the black label applied to them really aren’t. The colour of this text is black. My skin is not.
So, I don’t like the term being black or black people, at all, and I think as long as we are distinguishing differences between people with darker coloured skin and people with lighter coloured skin, then we will be perpetually stuck in this odd state where you can have seperate classifications for actors and ‘black actors’ or poets and ‘black poets’ ( << insert profession of your choice here).
It is ridiculous, in my opinion. People are people.
I am also mindful that there are currently campaigns to increase the diversity of British TV and writing, with people specifically wanting to see more (BAME) Black and Minority Ethnic writers, actors, characters being given prominent spots.
One plea for this that I have seen is because people want to see themselves in books and stories, you know the old relatable line. But for me, it has never been something I have given much thought to, because as I looked out of my real eyes, all I saw were people with lighter coloured skins than me, so reading books where that was the case was mirroring real life. I didn’t not get into books because they were lacking blackness!!!!
But again, I appreciate other people’s opinions, wants and desires and just because they don’t match my own, doesn’t make them any the less valid. And also, thinking about it, it is lots of little pushes and changes that have led to my now expected comfort in this world we live in, so if things like #DiverseDecember help the cause further and help others to feel as comfortable, then brilliant!
But what is ethnic diversity these days anyway? Are there really more people on this planet with less melanin than with more? And if not, We live in a very connected era and people strike up cross contintental relationships all the time, blending the gene pools more and more. And does ethnicity even matter? I’m going slightly off track here but my children’s schools are forever ‘collecting data’ and I noticed on a recent form that two of them had their ‘ethnicity’ assigned (I never fill those details in) ~ one was marked White British and the other fell under Black British. Now how is that possible when both are of the same parentage? Anyway, I digress.
Perhaps I am seeing a problem where there isn’t one, or maybe it is just a struggle that I should keep deep within in my cold black soul! 😉
It’s hard to know whether one should stick their head above the parapet and see if there are any like-minded folk about, as in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. But it does bother me a bit.
Time has changed our terminolgy around the way we describe other people. We no longer define people who have disabilites by the disorders they suffer from. Words that were commonplace in the 70s/80s are now thankfully not heard in polite society. Same-sex marriage is now just marriage.
So maybe now is the time to stop calling people ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’?
What do you think? Is one epitomized by the colour of the skin that contains their internal organs? Can you be black?