29 Days of “Just B”eing Black: How black are you?

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Day 2: The Just B blog will count down through Black History Month moments and elements of Just “B”eing, tying in elements from “How to Be Black”, Yoga and life.

I hope this month is about discovering something new about ourselves in our community that we didn’t know before, that helps us recognize our similarities and our strengths together. I hope we can all peel away our layers without discarding our history and find our depth as beings.

May we all find connection with these reflections.

When the song “Black Man” came out it became an anthem my house. My mother wanted to be sure I knew the words and who the people were in the song and their role in our history. Not only was it a funky hot tune from Steveland Morris but it brought knowledge. Knowledge she wanted her young daughter to know in her bones.

“First man to die
For the flag we now hold high [Crispus Attucks]
Was a black man”

“Who was the first man to set foot on the North Pole?
Matthew Henson – a black man”

I grew up a little confused about my Blackness and in a tough time for that confusion. I didn’t exactly look like my mom. I am of Asian and African-American genetics. I was born two months before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, five years after the “I have a dream” speech. Times were not very kind to mixed race children. I was a new being in a world that was still letting the dust settle from dogs, hoses and beatings. Very young eyes watched from within a the arms of a militant mother the struggle for her rightful place on the earth as a black person and a woman. She was much like a growling mother lion protective of a cub.

(I loved the cartoon “Kimba the White Lion” a lot as a child because I felt like I was that white lion that stood out and didn’t look like his parents but he found a way to establish his voice and his being. He was lion. Period.)

My mother’s mission early in life was to be sure I knew I was black, even as I looked in the mirror to long thick curls, slanted eyes and a different skin tone; even as I was teased and made fun of in a mostly-black elementary school.

“One drop of blood, Belinda. To this country you are and will always be black. You are what your mother is. Never forget that.”

And while I have had many moments of black realization, I’ve always claimed to just be. I was about 8 or 9 in line at the Giant grocery store at the corner of 14th Street and Newton (down the street from my house) and a lady in front of me in line turned and asked me “Excuse me little girl, what are you?”

I was struck with the nature of the question. What was I? As though I wasn’t even a person, much less a black person.

I had a very flip answer, I left the line without the groceries and went home angry and crying.

I would navigate many forms of this question and still do to this day (I just don’t cry any more, nope). I’ve been fascinated with our need to classify/label/categorize ourselves and how those labels/classifications/categorizations influence how we treat one another.

I did not know my father. So far as I know my father doesn’t know he has a daughter. His race is as best relayed to me by my mother Filipino and half white (she said WASP actually). Besides vague genetics I am mostly void of knowledge of the other branch of my tree and that contributed to a layer of complexity, confusion and self-conflict that no one could help me with.  But the world was going to challenge me to identify myself as though being wasn’t enough.

“This world was made for all men. God saved His world for all men
All people, All babies, All children, All colors, All races
This world’s for you and me”

I can honestly say it took me three decades to come to peace with my being, to claim my right to breathe and be as a woman, a person of many colors, as a spirit. I am a living testament to the strong and loving spirits who came before me through Africa and slavery and racial oppression and discrimination, as well as a whole host of other people and experiences I cannot recount in words handed down through generations but that I can feel in my essence. That combination’s sum total is me, just B, and I believe my ancestors smile at that.

I am Black.

I am a woman.

I am of mixed race.

I am spirit.

Oh, and I am Black.

Today’s excerpt from “How to Be Black”: How black people pick wine

“…I spotted the label “Negroamaro.” This was the sign! I would buy this bottle because it had the word “Negro” in it. I did not know what “amaro” meant, and I did not care. Clearly, this was a red wine created for a discerning black connoisseur…”

Baratunde would later tweet: “this weekend I picked my red wine because it was called “Negroamaro” that’s how black I am. @elonjames #HowBlackAreYou”

And thus a book was born.

 

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