growing up black

i love tumblr.

when i first arrived there, i barely understood it: a blogging interface designed mainly for artists, photographers, and other creatives who wanted to blog without words. although it's greatly expanded since then, it is still, mainly, that.

tumblr's also allowed me to encounter a fantastic community of insightful, intelligent, constantly questioning women whose thoughts i enjoy reading and, occasionally, engaging with.  i say occasionally because i try to keep the words to a minimum, poetry being an exception. i built my tumblog as a space to take in inspiring imagery, and i've largely kept it that way.

however, i have noticed the stories of {presumably} blackfolks and other people of color who didn't grow up around blackfolks/their folks.  and the deprogramming that has to happen when one grows up in that context. 

by no means were my parents or extended family what you would call "race people".  there's not even a black muslim among us.  i heard few explicitly political or religious conversations, although i picked up nuggets of their philosophies. folks shouldn't go without in a country this affluent. god is love. that kind of thing.

one thing that was explicitly spoken: whitefolks weren't "like us". they weren't raised to the level of angels or reduced to heinous demons; they were just different. and, sometimes, they tried to make us feel bad about who we were. but that was just some bullshit they made up.  and so what? we're still here anyway.

yes, i heard the stories of carrying food with you when you traveled.  all the places we couldn't go to or neighborhoods we couldn't live in.  my great grandmother was a domestic worker. my dad constantly railed against the racism in law enforcement--but he'd also praise those whose love for the city enabled them to do their jobs well and fairly.

and, yes, i got the equivalent of the "don't bring 'em home if they can't use your comb" speech {that might be another entry...}.

on the other hand, they also didn't care if my friends came from roland park or north avenue, as long as they were good friends.  they didn't hang with bourgie negroes, and no one felt the need to sacrifice culture and sense of self to "make it".   

my schools--because they were built around ability more than zoning, property tax, or anything else--were more multicultural than most in baltimore city.  in elementary school especially, i was taught by teachers who engaged us and loved us--race or ethnicity notwithstanding.  i fully understand that for a solidly middle class, urban black girl, i had a charmed public education.  on all levels.

what's all this mean? it means that whiteness--as a social and psychological concept--did not truly enter my life until college. the notion of white supremacy making the world go 'round was something i don't think i had language for until late adolescence, if then.  no one insulted me (to my face) with a racial slur. with family, i only heard the n-word used for someone you didn't like--and when it was said out of that context, it was amongst blackfolks in varied and colorful ways.    

i helped run "sisters for black awareness" in high school, but that wasn't to confront whiteness or make safe space, i've just always been interested in my identity and heritage beyond the "we came here as slaves" narrative. there were times when the organization had to step up in that way, but that's another blog.

whiteness wasn't prettier. it wasn't easier. if anything, it was almost pitiable. it didn't matter if most of the folks on tv, the president, or similar folks were white--probably because the first mayor of my city that i was aware of was black.  the main magazines in our house were ebony, jet and essence

blackness was normal.  broad, wide and deep.

and now, i can see how wonderful a blessing that knowing is.   

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