I recently read How to Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston. I first heard of the book on NPR last year, and knew that I had to read it to make sure it was accurate. I consider myself an expert on being Black because I’ve always wished that I were Black. I remember the disappointment I felt as a kid when my dad informed me that I wasn’t Black. I knew that my mom was Asian and my dad was White, but why couldn’t I be Black? There’s where your family is from, and then there’s who you are. You get to choose who you are. So why couldn’t I be Black?
A better question might be how I got it in my head that I was Black. If you think back to when you were a kid, you’ll remember that your world was very small and personal. You had strange filters and hadn’t been conditioned to think that you might have to adjust your filters according to those of others. This is why I like kids — I like hearing their interpretations of the world around them (except for these kids).
My early childhood consisted of a dad who played guitar and taught me about music legends like Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson. So, after spending the first five years of my life in his music room, listening to an endless loop of Black musicians and having my dad tell me, “Girl, you got soul!” when I started singing along to songs about big legged women, why wouldn’t I think that I was Black? I would have been stupid not to think that. It was logic, pure and simple.
When I started kindergarten, I befriended a girl (who happened to be Black) named Money (pronounced MOH-nay) who lived up the street from me. We didn’t have the same teacher, but were in the same grade. Our moms played bingo together. It was good times all around. One day, Money called me on the phone. I was so excited about my first phone call from a friend that wasn’t my mom or dad! (Still am.) I was also a bit nervous because I didn’t know what people really talked about on the phone. (Still don’t.) Once I got on the phone, though, my fears immediately dissipated. I remember part of the conversation going something like this:
Money — Honeychil’, you know that li’l boy So-and-so?
Me — Girl, who don’t know him? He always pullin’ on people’s hair!
Money — Mmm hmm. Well, that fool pulled on my braid so hard today that I slapped him.
Me — Ooh, girl! No!
Money — I sho did!
Me — That fool deserved it!
Money — That’s what I said! Alright, honeychil’, I’mma let you go.
Me — Alright, bye honeychil’.
My dad stood by and listened to the entire conversation, smiling and shaking his head. When I hung up the phone, he said, “That was really cute. You sounded like a little Black girl.”
Did he just say that I sounded LIKE a little Black girl? That implies that I’m NOT a little Black girl. The world began moving in slow motion. Up was down. Down was up. I had to re-evaluate the past five years of my life, only three of which I remembered at all. Oh, look at how shiny the lightbulb is! “Daddy, I’m hungry.”
To be continued…