It’s that time of the year when high schools celebrate their matriculating students. I saw an article that discussed what today’s Black graduates need to know. It was a short list; however, one thing stood out on the list. The author stated that black students needed help “defining themselves for themselves.” I think the author missed a great portion of how significant this thought is.
When I think back to my own high school graduation, I remember feeling relieved that i could finally get away from the pressures of having to be a certain thing. it seemed all through my high school years someone was wanting me to be something. my parents wanted me to be an honor student, my friends wanted me (as well as themselves) to be popular and trendy, and my teacher’s wanted me to be at my full potential all the time. Me, i just wanted to be me –whoever that was — and to be accepted and respected as such. What I wanted most at that time of graduation was to no longer be defined by what group I hung with, the clothes that I wore, the grades that I made, or the sports that I played. I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone’s idea of what I should be. What I needed was to create myself.
Black youth in America receive a number of indirect messages about what it means to be Who they are. What they will find is that no one category can completely define an individual. Maybe they are a great athlete, but maybe you don’t want to play in the NBA. Maybe they are extremely intelligent, but maybe they don’t want to go to college. Every person is unique. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have discovered in the world; one can meet a thousand people and find no two exactly the same. If there is anything Black high school graduates — or Black people in general — need, it is the courage to explore one’s self and create an identity.
One of the greatest failures of the Black community has been our indifference to the creation of our own identity. We have too often allowed ourselves to be defined externally by our environment, our socioeconomic status, our social class, our religion, our wardrobe, our hairstyles. We are quick to allow external things which may be an extension or expression of our identity to become our sole persona.
The menace of Blackness is born of self ignorance and self indifference. it is what happens when what it means to be Black is defined by things external to the individual. When I use the term “menace of Blackness” I am not speaking of authentic Blackness. I am referring to the ideas and stereotypes about Blackness.
As individuals we are menaced by these notions because they do not comprehensively define any two of Black people. Everyday becomes a struggle. To find, know, and be an individual while everything else is pushing us to be like someone else. Without knowledge of our own individual identity we find ourselves plagued by the images and ideas being projected onto us. Some stick and some do not. We may mixed feelings about the ones that do apply and have no idea what to do with the ones that do not.
However, we become fixated on the ones that are not like us. We rail against the notions: berating and denouncing the very idea that all Black people — including us — are like that. We neglect the fact that somewhere there probably are some Black people like that and our vicious aversion is an offense to their identity. We find ourselves in careless contention against members of our own community. The worst part is that what we do describe as our identity is founded not on who are, but who we are not. We can tear down every idea or stereotype we hate but cannot articulate what, then, should replace them. Creation cannot occur in destruction.
“All you are ever told in this country about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing. In order to survive this you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact –this may sound very strange — you have to decide who you are and force the world to deal you and not with its idea of you”
– James Baldwin
. It is of no importance whether anyone is interested in what you find, or whether or not they like what you find, or whether or not what you find is the same as what others have found. This is personal. This isn’t about being admired, desired, or loved. This is about loving yourself. If you don’t, know one else is likely to either.
I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,
An Angry Black Man