When black isn't black enough

April 25, 2002, midnight | By Colby Chapman | 18 years, 9 months ago

One black student questions the causes of African Americans' self-imposed stereotypes

Is it the way I speak that causes others to whisper? Perhaps it's the clothes on my back that cause laughter as I walk by my peers? Maybe it's the company I keep that generates the rejection I receive from my own people, rejection because I'm simply not "black enough."

In a world where the black race has continuously suffered from prejudice and has worked so hard to overcome this adversity, it astonishes me to see black people limiting their own capabilities today. We place limitations on our intelligence as well as our personalities. No longer is it only the white society barring us from prospering; now black people are posting their own "white only" signs.

Despite Montgomery Blair's harmonic racial diversity, there is an obvious form of prejudice present within its walls. Not discrimination amongst different races, but discrimination within one culture–the black culture.

My ninth grade year was one of confusion and awkwardness because of these "signs" posted throughout Blair. Before coming to Blair most of the students and teachers I knew were white. All I had experienced was the white culture. As a result I didn't resemble many other African American females. In the words of junior Rosemary Emelike, who is black, people like me are Oreos: "Black on the outside and white on the inside," says Emelike.

Is you is or is you ain't black

Upon questioning my black peers about what is "black enough," someone confronted me and told me that I sounded white. I asked her why, and she told me it's because of my word choice and pronunciation. The girl told me that where she would say "what was you doin'?" I was more likely to say "what were you doing?"

I was confused as to why speaking properly was considered the white way. According to Emelike, it's because if you're black, "you should talk like [a black person]."
Freshman Sharick Lungrin explains that there are also just certain words and phrases that are never associated with black people, such as "loser," "whatever," "omygosh," "as if," "like" and "freak."

Language is a ridiculous way to judge the level of ethnicity of black people. That misguided conception that blacks are not supposed to speak proper English is a throwback to slave mentality. In this respect, black people have regressed back to a point where they were yielded by chains and whips of the white folk.

Black people didn't speak the language of the white people then, but instead created their own language to communicate with one another. Don't get me wrong, the language we created is a beautiful one, yet in this time and age, proper English is no longer only representative of white society but an educated one.

Versace shoes and designer wear

In ninth grade I probably looked like the stereotypical white girl despite my brownish tint. I wore loose jeans, clothing brands such as American Eagle and Abercrombie and Fitch, New Balance sneakers and an Adidas jacket. This was the style I was comfortable with, and it was what I was used to seeing.

I never knew I had to dress a certain way to fit into my own racial category. I thought I was just supposed to dress according to what felt comfortable. However, I have come to learn that material things are a large basis for judgment.

According to Lungrin, "Black people are supposed to be dressed GQ." She cites Sergios, Versace, Jordans and Paresucos as the appropriate attire for black people. Mountain boots and high-water jeans with rolled down socks, on the other hand, are for white people.

Although I no longer dress the same way as my ninth grade days, I find myself to fit in neither of the categories listed by Lungrin. I have developed my own style, but does that make me not "black enough"?

The educated Negro

In the eyes of some Blair students, education level is another indicator of blackness. "Not all black people do their work and get straight ‘A's," says Lungrin. In her eyes, school is not usually the main focus of African Americans, and therefore, school-oriented blacks are considered to be acting against their culture.

Lungrin and her friends feel that it is often hard to connect mentally with an educated black person. She says she sees these types of people as sellouts to the black community.

It is sad to hear that my desire to learn makes me a sellout. Black people are already classified as one of the lowest-achieving racial sectors, so when someone criticizes another black person for being educated, all that person is saying is that black people can't be smart. I can't understand why blacks would want to limit the abilities of our own people.

Many prejudice people already looked upon on our race as unintelligent, ignorant and incapable of achieving a level of learning equal to that of whites. Yet black people continue to join in on the bandwagon of prejudice against the black race.

Why the discrimination?

English resource teacher Vicky Adamson believes black-on-black discrimination stems from contradicting experiences and exposure. She feels that some black people develop an idea of what is black based on their own self-identity and what they themselves have achieved.

These people then compare others with that idea, and the result can be the association of certain characteristics with whiteness. "My black pride is reflected in many ways which might not fit someone else's notion of black," Adamson says. "But that should not mean they can question my racial identity."

Some students agree with Adamson. "I don't know a lot of other black people with the same experiences I have," says senior David Chachere. Because he is in the Magnet Program, Chachere is a minority in all of his classes, thus he is frequently exposed to other cultures. Usually when people associate consistently with other cultures, they tend to pick up selective habits of the cultures they are exposed to.

Like Chachere, I have always been in a white atmosphere—from elementary school to high school, my classes have been predominately white. But that doesn't mean I have turned my back on my own culture but that I have opened my mind to new experiences.

I feel that a person can't talk, act, or dress black. Black is a race and not a personality trait. I should be able to wear what I want and act how I want without facing criticism. For goodness' sake, can I live? Can I have space to create my own personality?

So many people have fought for black freedom and prosperity. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall have contributed greatly to black history. There was a time when a black person couldn't receive the same education as a white person and where there were restrictions placed on what a black person could achieve.

Those times have changed. With more opportunities now available for black people, it is a shame that instead of taking advantage of them, we shun them because of our own narrow-mindedness.

Although I present myself differently from the demeaning stereotypical image of a black person, I am still black and I am angered when anyone suggests that I'm not "black enough." It is not that I'm not "black enough"; it is just that some black people are too narrow-minded to see that blacks are represented in an increasingly wide world. It is a world wide enough to encompass blacks who are scientists, doctors, and political leaders: It's a world that includes real blacks who speak standard English and even who occasionally wear clothes purchased from Abercrombie and Fitch.

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Colby Chapman. Colby Chapman is a junior page editor and sports writer for Silver Chips. She plays basketball and runs track for Blair, and she plays the piano as well. She is very committed to her academics but takes great pride in her athletics. More »

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