'Who is Black?' questions my culture, myself


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John W. Fountain III

I had to learn how to talk "black."

I didn't understand that hanging prepositions were part of the dialect.

"What you finna do?"

"What you do that for?"

"Stop 'axing' me that!"

I was bullied for talking in complete sentences.

I had to learn to like rap.


DJ Quick.

MC Lyte.

I hid the fact that I listened to alternative rock and country music.

I was told that most black males would eventually end up in prison or dead.

These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head as I watched "Who is Black in America?" with Soledad O'Brien. It followed two high school seniors and their views on blackness and colorism.

Who ultimately defines the culture of a race?

And is race and culture one in the same?

For so long I didn't identify myself as black or relating to black culture.

To be politically correct, I checked the box labeled "black," but I didn't feel my blackness, as Dubois once wrote.

Sure, I had some experiences on the West Side, but those experiences were so grossly negative that it made me hate myself.

I have experienced encounters with authority while WWB (walking while black), DWB (driving while black) and MYOBWB (minding your own business while black)—which is a part of the black experience.

Like many kids growing up, I learned that dark was ugly.

I learned that being black was significantly synonymous with negativity.

And the media perpetuates it.

If you can't rap or be athletic, you should try being overly obnoxious and land a really ignorant house wife show.

And through this glorification of minstrel television, I would find myself talking about "them."

Even as I tutor and mentor high school children, who read at the first grade level, I wonder what kind of self-hate may be brewing because of what society has dictated their future to be.

What kinds of subliminal signs am I sending them as I correct their speech?

It all brings me back to the after-effects of slavery, not slavery itself.

Through education and knowledge of self, I realized I needed to reconcile two parts of me and make peace, just as the subjects in the documentary. I had to come to terms of there being no unified blackness of which to speak.

I learned that while the broader culture may categorize me as something, it's ultimately my own self-accountability and definition that determines my worth, but everyone won't have that.

Everyone won't have the fortitude to stray from the pack mentality, and it's because of this that I believe racism and colorism will always exist.

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