When we think of black identity and racial self-essentialism (imposing limiting identities upon ourselves based upon race/ethnicity, built upon manufactured representations of blackness), what comes to mind are conversations that normally sway in the direction of being told you are acting too ‘white’ if you step out of the unspoken guidelines of the widespread representation of blackness and black cultural norms that we see in mainstream media today.
But what about those at the other end of the spectrum? Can you just be TOO black?
In younger years, I remember when one black person would tell another that they were ‘so black’. This was normally said in jest, when the subject person had displayed what was deemed typical ‘black’ behaviour. Such ‘black’ behaviours, which commonly are behaviours synonymous with what are considered ‘ghetto’ behaviours, were the source of the joke. Being told you were ‘too black’ was a verbal seal of black authenticity from your peers. Nobody got offended, nobody was irritated. It was all good.
But then there is the other type of being ‘too black’. The type that is always causing trouble, making black people feel bad about themselves and their lives. You know, the menaces to black society? Causing mayhem and breaking laws.
I’m Just joking, they are actually just speaking out about black issues and advocating for change.
Being labelled as ‘too black’, ‘earthy’ or my personal favourite, having my cousin sing “I am not my hair” by India Arie to me whenever I say anything even suspected as having a pro-black agenda, make me chuckle and frown at the same time. Even if not meant to insult, I have come to associate these types of comments with criticism of what I feel is important, and not the constructive type.
Having an opinion as a young person regarding black society and it’s issues is often met with lukewarm, actually no sorry; a stone cold reception. Either because others just want you to shut up, turn on the BET channel and ‘be young’, or because in their opinion, you have no business challenging the status Quo and the black images of dysfunction presented as normality in the media.
In addition to refusing to buy into the guise of post-racialism, a black person who draws attention to issues that can be improved in our community, sign-posts sources for further reading to others regarding our history and cultural origins, and stays well-read in an attempt to remain knowledgeable whilst navigating as a black person through white social spaces; is not being too black, they are practising racial and cultural awareness.
I do not believe one can ever be ‘too black’. Do you?