In one of the previous blog posts (click here “LOVING A BLACK MAN: LOVING MY BLACK MAN“), Kryzia touched on a couple points that have directly been a part of my life’s experiences as a young man that I’ve had to push past in order to keep making positive strides.
WHITEWASHED AND NOT “ACTING BLACK”
Before I made the transition from primary school to junior high, I very clearly remember (as my Mom brings it up all the time) that as far as school was concerned, I was second to none in a lot of ways among my peers. I had the best grades, picked up a bunch of awards at school (ranging from citizenship awards to awards for best grades), and even won city-wide spelling bee competitions.
Shortly after I moved into junior high, lots of the kids at the time started to take notice of how much I was killing it. Not too long after, I remember being told by one of my friends (who was also black), that I was “whitewashed”. Whitewashed? At the time, I had no idea what that meant so I asked questioned him. I was met with something along the lines of “You know, just not acting black.”
NBA Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley spoke up on this exact topic on a radio show in 2014 (see video below) and called it a “dirty dark secret in the black community,” Many different variations of the “not acting black” phrasing gets thrown around more often than it should, which has very negative effects for anyone that is on the receiving end of it. In a short span of time, I had heard that said to me more than once by my supposed friends. In retrospect as I examine my past, those words entered my consciousness without me truly recognizing it at the time and brought me to the point in high school that Kryzia recalls very vividly: me in the back of the classroom in high school, with by far the worst grades in the class, laughing obnoxiously, with no plan or intent to do much of anything to dig out of my situation as I was “too cool” to care.
Sir Charles went on in his rant to highlight that as you begin to peel back the onion of the “not black enough” mentality, its core suggests that “If you’re not a thug, or an idiot then you’re not cool enough. If you go to school, make good grades, and speak intelligently, and don’t break the law, then you’re not a good black person.” This underlying philosophy results in a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality, which absolutely had a negative impact on the trajectory of my life for a short span of time before I woke up and understood the nature of the paradigms I was holding on to. At the time I took that phrase to mean that the way I was operating as a young black man, someone who was working hard in school and focusing to try and make something of myself, wasn’t “compatible” with the colour of my skin. My situation is just one of a million different ways that others, like myself, have experienced this issue.
Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t wake up and recognize that being an intelligent member of society that contributes positively does not make you a loser.
Ultimately what I want to point out is that for this to change, I believe that myself and everyone else in my generation has to have the ability to shift what qualifies as Social Currency. What I mean by that is, the things that we deem as “cool” and the behaviours that are encouraged need to be those that propel and help set a higher standard than what was there before us. Why not encourage each other to develop new and innovative ideas together? Why not look towards dominating a field of work/study so we can serve as a model for those coming up after us?
I strongly believe that my generation is uniquely positioned to set that new standard and take our community to the next level where we can truly build generational wealth and shift the social currency.