To answer the big question of “what am I?” I am mixed black and white. My father was black and my mother is white, and I am a beautiful caramel macchiato.
This has never really been a problem for me. When I was in first grade a girl asked me if I was adopted when she saw my mom, but that’s been pretty much the extent of my raced-based interactions. I struggle with my hair. People ask “What am I?” and sometimes men approach me with a reluctant, “Hola?” thinking I am Latina.
The quick answer and identity I used for college applications was and always has been black. Partially because I’ve always just kind of felt black, and partially because whatever I am, I am simply not white. However, I realized something this week. I am very white.
No, I wasn’t trying to prove my dance moves. I wasn’t complaining about the food being too spicy. I was actually in a classroom. My writing professor assigned a reading to us about “Black English,” and one teacher’s passion for teaching the cultural dialect as a written language. I could not have felt whiter.
The goal of the piece was to highlight the issues with “Standard English,” and to speak to the injustice done to the black community by not accepting their syntax as “proper.” This did not sit well with me. I was raised to not say “ain’t,” not use double negatives, and to enunciate each word carefully. I’ve spent years drilling the rules of English grammar into my skull, and here this professor seemed to be undoing all my hard work.
I don’t want to address the question of prejudice here. I want to speak more about my own experience and identity that was brought to light from this lesson.
I found myself hating this piece because I was angry that someone was saying my precious rules for grammar were systematically oppressive. Then I was confused because in feeling this anger, was I coming from a place of internalized racism? This begged a larger question, and one I have kind of held in the back of my head since coming to college: am I black enough? There are things I know and things I am not sure about. I know that I stand against racism. I am not sure I am a victim of it.
I know, especially compared to too many other people of color, I have never experienced outright personal racism. But have I internalized it based on the fact that I can’t get down with “Black English?” I know some people would tell me yes. I only hate Black English because the white man has told me to hate Black English. But I think I actually, as a writer, as a rule follower, enjoy conforming to the rules of standard English. Yes, these rules came from a bunch of white men, but so did the Constitution and I do love my freedom of Speech.
I don’t know where my endgame here is. I guess, if you are someone who wants to speak and write in “Black English” I can’t and won’t try to stop you, but I’m not going to use it myself. And I don’t think that makes me any less black. I think it means I was raised differently or come from a different culture. I will respect that it does not make you less educated or less refined, as the piece pointed out, students who tried to switch from Standard English to Black English had trouble conforming to its rules. And even if it was “easy” it would not be invalid.
I guess my point is, don’t make me choose. I cannot choose which race I want to be every day. I don’t think any part of me is strictly based in one-half of my chromosomes. I just don’t want to feel like I’m betraying either one of my races in saying this, so I’m not going to. I’m mixed, and that’s not important because at the end of the day I’m Kamaron no matter what.