Remember that book, Stuff White People Like
? Like fancy sandwiches. I like fancy sandwiches. Arugula. Aioli. Aww yeah.
I went through a major Guns & Roses phase. I can sing the “November Rain” guitar solos. And don’t make me start singing “Round Here,” by The Counting Crows.
Does that make me an Uncle Tom?
When I was 4 or 5, I used to think my dad was white. “Mama, he looks more like Leah down the street than us.” In school, while doing the standard family tree assignment, I learned my family was actually pretty multi-ethnic.
I was kind of mad at it, like my family was wrong, messed up somehow. On my dad’s side, my great-great grandfather was white and my great-great grandmother Native American (we don’t know what tribe). My maternal great-grandfather was full-blooded Choctaw.
Around 13, it was all NWA and Public Enemy. Couldn’t call me anything but Afrocentric. I wouldn’t go on a history class field trip to Virginia because Jefferson got his swerve on all over Monticello.
But when I was a junior in high school, and had long since put away the red, green and black medallions, I wasn’t black enough. I attended a private Seventh-Day Adventist academy where the majority of students were minorities, many of them black like me and also, like me, not model Christians. Some of them bullied me, calling me booshie. They made fun of the ’95 Pontiac Grand Am I drove when my parents traded in the ’84 Cutlass Supreme. Because I lived in the other direction down I-95, away from the DC line, they said, “You think you fancy.”
In my 20s, according to my white boyfriend at the time, I was super black. He was obsessed enough with my hair and skin to call me exotic. And I liked his sense of my blackness. The idea of being somewhat bizarre and alluring made me feel special. I actually liked being the Other.
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
Once you go black, you never go back.
He went back.
So many times I wish I could be one of those people who say, “Black, white: who cares?” But I don’t think those people really exist. I think about race all the time. Especially when people touch my hair without asking or call my skin the same color as a drink at Starbucks.
The writer James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” What if he’d just accepted things as they were? What if my great-great grandfather had listened to his parents and didn’t marry the “Injin”?
Whether or not I’m an Uncle Tom or a product of me and my time, just once, if I could really be something exotic, I’d be a zebra. All motion-dazzle coming right at you, achromatic almost, just a gray blur, something like a gaggle of geese lifting from the ground to hit the sky head-on. And the sky will only be that one tree with seemingly one branch in some savanna. When I stand under it, the tree’s shadows shadow me.
That would be the skin of it.