It is extremely rare for two individuals to share the same fingerprints. With all of humanities’ commonalities, fingerprints remain distinct. Humans have an innate desire to find similarities with one another in order to gain belonging. However, humans’ desire to find similarities runs in direct conflict with their desire to self-actualize and establish a sense of being.
There is not one way to be black.
Throughout this series I have been fortunate to be able to sit down with many black artists; ranging from writers, photographers, and models. Each bringing their unique style and personality to the project. The purpose of this series was to highlight diversity in the black community. Although there are many things black people share in terms of life experience and social issues, they remain separated by differences in culture and interests. I am inspired by seeing so many black people express themselves. It feels as though I am ingrained in a new age “Black Bohemia.” Black Bohemia: a place where black people from all walks of life are bonded by skin, separated by upbringing, and united by struggle. Wanderers from different tribes walking side by side with one another.
At 18, fresh out of high school, I dreamed of becoming a traveling street poet. Holding the firm belief that college was not the answer to everything and it was not for everyone. I romanticized what it would be like to live the life of a struggling artist. I was excited to see the world and travel from place to place. However, my dreams were not mine alone. What stood in front of me were the statistics of African American college graduates. I felt I had to prove myself to those of majority culture that I was just as smart as them. Even as the fiercely independent person that I am, I felt I owed it to my race to go to college.
An individual is not asked when born to be the spokesperson of their race. However, minorities are taught early on that they not only represent themselves but society’s perception of the race they are affiliated with. My blackness will be seen before my personality has the chance to reveal itself.
Despite taking a different route in life, I do not regret my decision to go to college. However toxic my motivations were, college was needed in order to build the framework of my identity. The college I attended was largely white and conservative. As a black student who had not completely figured out where he aligned with politics, it became clear to me that I, even not knowing completely what my views were, did not align with the majority. Being surrounded by so many who believed social injustices were a thing of the past and the issues minorities were facing were fictional was difficult. That being said, if it not for these experiences I would not have as clear of an understanding of what my views were or how to defend them.
A part me wonders what it would have been like to attend an H.B.C.U. (Historically Black College University). Black people from all walks of life coming together and pursuing higher education. The focus no longer being on their blackness or what college ads they can be incorporated into for diversity, but on the unique qualities that make up who they are. Perhaps I am envious that white people often do not have to acknowledge their ethnicity, but I am reminded of it every time I put my hand behind the wheel.
The media has often throughout the years depicted black individuals as the comic relief or the “sassy” friend. On the flip side turning through the channels I can see several kinds of white people. Goths, jocks, brainiacs, artists, young, old, gay, straight, etc. I think perhaps it might be believed by majority culture and even some of the minority culture that there is only one kind of black person.
Systematic racism pushes the narrative that black people are all the same. This narrative that was pushed on my ancestors has continued to influence generations today. This lie has been internalized in the black community. When a person is told they are one thing for so long they begin to believe it. I have been in settings where I have been told I was not “black enough” by both black and white people. I was young so I took their words to heart. In a time during my adolescence, there were many things I was unsure about concerning my identity but I knew for certain I was black. With a few words, it felt as though even that was taken from me.
The greatest combat a minority group can use against discrimination is being unapologetically themselves. In this, they decide who they are rather than allowing the system to tell them. Of course, there are challenges people of color face outside of the mind that must be overcome but the first step to fixing it is through reframing the mind. I individually decide what it means to be black and what it means to live in my skin. No one can tell me what my experience is or take it away.
When the United States first began it was running by an elite group. This group was filled with white men and were not open to women and minorities. Though white women were not equal to white men they relished in the idea that they were above minority groups. This elite mindset trickled down into the black community. Today it is disputed among black people over who qualifies as black. When black people seek to decide who is in and who is out, they allow racism to divide them further.
I have worked hard this month to deliver stories written by black people from everywhere, but was unable to. There are stories that were not represented and voices that were not heard. It is my hope that other black people will seek to share their experiences with those around them and that people of majority culture will have the desire to listen. Lastly I hope that all would learn to appreciate the many different shades and colors of the black community. I encourage readers to dive further into “Black Bohemia, ” education does not end at the end of February it continues on.