Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Questions of Identity

Here is an essay I'd written for Essence magazine that was rejected. I'm still holding out hope that one day I'll be able to write for them, but until then, I'll just share it with you all...

Questions of Identity
Not too long ago, a friend told me that my voice sounded “Anglo-Saxon-ish.”

In other words, I sounded like a white woman. It didn’t surprise me.

I had been hearing similar comments for most of my life.

It was always, “You dress like a white girl.” Or my personal favorite: “You listen to that white people music.”

Growing up, I always felt like I wasn’t black enough. No matter what I did, I wasn’t part of that “cool” black crowd. I liked to read and I always had good grades but I never let my friends catch me reading a book or get a glimpse of my report cards. In their minds, reading strictly for leisure and earning A’s were things white people did.

I wore Reeboks when all the black girls were purchasing Nike Air Force One’s.

I wore Tommy Hilfiger when the rest of my friends wore Marc Ecko.

My parents always encouraged me to expand my mind and think beyond what I saw. They assured me that a huge world existed beyond my block in a predominately white, but still culturally diverse, suburb of Cleveland. Who can blame me for wanting to explore it?

My friends would call me to ask me to see the latest black film that had been released. We would go and I would feel uncomfortable because the films never reflected my reality. I didn’t know any drug dealers. I lived in a two-parent home and we were middle class people in the ‘burbs. Watching Boyz N the Hood made me feel like I was living the “white” life.

It pains me to think that I didn’t discover my “blackness” until I went to college. I took a class in the Pan-African Studies department and it truly opened my eyes. Discovering the rich and varied history of some of America’s most prominent African-Americans made me feel more in touch with myself. After taking the class, I understood it was my heritage that made me who I was. It was already a part of me and I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. There was no way for me to act “black”───I was black.

I had to understand that black people don’t fit in one mold. We are multi-dimensional, have different values and socioeconomic positions. There are black people in the hood and black people in the ‘burbs. We were all black; we simply had different addresses.

Like I said, when my friend made that remark, I wasn’t surprised. But for the first time, I wasn’t offended. When it comes down to it, I know I am Black and proud of it. The absence of hip-hop music in my CD collection or urban clothing in my closet can’t change that.


Yolanda said...

Wonderful article, I truely relate. College was such a wonderful experience for me because it was my first opportunity to really immerse in black culture.

Paula Neal Mooney said...

Hey, I remember when you first let me read this.

So good.

It's the real you.

Don't worry, Essence will see the light of Tara someday soon!


James said...

Very nice, I sound white as well most of the time but i have notice most of my black friends speak proper as well, As far as dress, I dress nice but some whites in the business world think sometimes I look like a pimp. My kids now have to deal with not being black because of $$. It is a insult to all black people to think if you speak well, dress nice, study hard or are successful, you are acting white. I was in Mississippi and heard some Ebonics so strong I could not understand what was being said, the Ebonics was from White folk. Is there anyone in the world who speaks better than Minister Farrakkon, thanks for the thought provokling post

Martin Lindsey. said...

Wow, it's amazing that we're still dealing with these internal perceptions in the 21st century. Don't worry, you're in good company. I really like the "we just have different addresses" line by the way.

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