This week I did 3 black things; I read Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black, I saw the Questionbridge Installation at the Oakland Museum and I went to a talk by Remi Omodele about her new book Weighing the Cost of Pin Making. Although there are many aspects to my identity, this week I engaged in the black part of it, and it felt good.
In his book, Thurston talks about how no one is the perfect amount of black, some people are accused of not being black enough, others of being too black, no one is ‘just right’. For him, he grew up in the inner city without a father (his “hood had everything The Wire had except critical acclaim and the undying love of white people”), but he has a degree from Harvard and also likes computers, camping and classical music. My ‘Negro credentials’ are that I grew up with a single mother in Oakland, and my father is Nigerian (actually from Nigeria), but I too have a fancy degree and a love for computers, camping and classical music. I had a great time reading this book, laughing out loud and thinking about when I first learned the term oreo, the differences between being a black friend and being a black employee and what it means to be black in America.
I went to see the Questionbridge Installation because my friend’s brother was involved in it. The installation is as simple as it is effective, it’s just black men asking and answering questions. Questions like ‘How do you feel about White Women? Why do you University educated brothers think they’re better than ones in jail? What would you do if white people didn’t exist? among others.” It was a very diverse group of men, many viewpoints represented. Being a black man is obviously different from being a black woman, but the issues raised about black identity were relevant and important. It brought up some questions I wanted to ask, can something be both true and racist? How does biracial identity change demographic and political trends?
Last night I went to see Remi Omodele, a family friend, talk about her new book. The book is about the life of Ulli Beier a teacher who had a huge influence on the Nigerian educational system. The title of the book comes from a saying that the British had about the ‘Natives’, that they were so uncivilized that they couldn’t even make a pin. This colonialist attitude was internalized by the Nigerians and they had begun to discount their own traditions. Beier helped them to document and embrace their own traditions. I went to the talk with my father who is from Benin City. Although Beier was in Yorubaland there are many linguistic and cultural similarities between the Yoruba and the Edo people. The message seemed to be that in order to combat the divisiveness and strife of modern times we need to look back to our traditions.
What does all this mean to me? I’ve spent most of my life in school; I’m quite good at being a student, in fact I’m starting again in the fall. I have never really been in a class that had more than 1 other black girl. I’m used to being the token Woman of Color. There are many different aspects of my identity that make me unique, I don’t think that being black is the most important part of my identity, but I do think it is very important, if not for myself, than for the way that other people see me. Black people make less money, have shorter life spans, higher health risks and lower economic prospects in this country. When people see me, they see this history and these statistics as well. I think if America survives this present crisis that there will come a time when race is less important to the way that people see me in this country, but this time hasn’t come yet. Most people see me as a Black Woman, and I’m happy with that.