And okay, let me start this by saying that on an intellectual level, I recognize and applaud every individual’s ability to adopt whatever identity best suits them, whatever fulfills them spiritually and emotionally and feels like it “fits”. I applaud those who are brave enough to behave unexpectedly and go against the status quo. I am a strong proponent of the idea that everyone should be who and what they are, wholly and truly and shamelessly and unapologetically.
But for all my fancy talk, I find it…difficult to accept this woman as a Black woman. Hell, even as a woman of color. People are going to look at her and SEE White, and while it isn’t fair to expect her to be defined solely by the identity others impose on her…I am struggling to find a way to look at her and see that we are members of the same group (well, more than just being American women). If we are both Black women, then…
what do all Black people possibly share?
Part of me is firmly invested in this idea that we must all share something. There must be something that binds us all together. I know that race is a social construction–trust me, NOTHING proves that to me as much as the very existence of this woman–but it’s still IMPORTANT to me. But, as a friend pointed out to me today, it’s only important to me BECAUSE of the history of discrimination and racism that has plagued my people and other racialized groups. Had there never been racism, there would likely be no concept of race. (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?) So is caring about race just validating the historical White man’s claims? Am I hurting us with my pride? Holding myself back with my self-identification?
No, I can’t believe any of that. It would label Blackness as problematic, and that’s something I’ll never ever co-sign. But a bandwagon I may have to get on is that Blackness is, above all else, a mentality. I think that for my sanity and so that everybody can’t just go around claiming it, it is a mentality informed and passed on by at least some genealogical and familial background–you can’t just pick up a book about Black peoples and start to identify with any sort of validity. But as I already believe that people of color are generally more likely to understand the world in certain ways, it’s not an impossibly far leap from there to Blackness is a state of being.
The problem, though, is states of being can’t be objectively measured or quantified. You won’t recognize someone’s state of being as they walk down the street. You will recognize the color of a person’s skin and try to typify them as such, but I think I need to accept that race runs a whole lot deeper than that. (I had a similar such moment a few weeks ago where I counted one more Black person than I thought was on the Sprint Football team, and he turned out to be Indian.) Because she identifies entirely as a Black woman and associates most dominantly with Black communities, is she not in some ways “more Black” than many Blacks (not that I really like to put Blackness on a spectrum, but for the purposes of this thought experiment…)?
So as I embark on a small journey to acceptance, I will say this: Danzy Senna is a Black woman. I am a Black woman. My African friends on campus may or may not be Black women, depending on how global your definition of Blackness is and how they self-identify. There is diversity in Black America.