“All of my problems are solved.. I’m Black!”
Quoted from a message I received from a White person, accompanied by their Ancestry results. (For the record, I didn’t see any Blackness in the results.)
This interaction was one of many that I had with this person in which they articulated their desire to be Black or a Black woman. At first, meaning a couple of years ago, I was, to some degree, flattered, but as I learn more and continue to study human behavior, I find myself more often perplexed by these statements. After receiving the message, I was instantly offended but I couldn’t pinpoint why. I know the statement was well-intentioned and said out of admiration, but there was still something that bothered me about the comment.
While I could go on about privilege and power and all of the other problematic elements to this short sentence, it indicates that, from their perspective, being Black is somehow a solution to a problem. This says to me that they neither understand what it is to be Black (or Blackness at all) nor do they account for the struggle that accompanies being Black. (Note: This isn’t to suggest that being Black is a struggle, but rather that all identities come with both pros, cons and implications that impact our social experiences. To be clear, I love every part of being Black, but I, like many other scholars and writers, recognize that it comes with beautiful struggle that makes us who we are and that is often neglected from recognition by people who aren’t Black. )
It is difficult, impossible, rather, for a person to understand a group that they do not hold membership in. More specifically, research and my personal experience indicates that White people cannot understand the Black experience. This recognition led me to wonder what it is that motivates one to hold a desire to be Black and what aspects of that experience shape that desire? How do they see Black people and how accurate are those perceptions? Also, from where do these perceptions derive? Interactions with Black people? Are these interactions with men or women? From rural or urban communities? From the United States or abroad? What family compositions? And from what background? There is no one experience so which experience is this admiration for? Are these perceptions influenced by the media? If so, which sources?
Only a Black person knows what it is to be a Black person so when someone who isn’t Black glamorizes (admires, envies, etc.) our experience, it can devalue the authentic experience. For example, if it’s because they perceive us as fearless and strong or appreciate our collectivism then it’s possible that the person neglects to consider the struggles that create that strength and fearlessness and the damage that has been caused on families and the overall Black culture.
If one who is not Black was given the opportunity to be Black, would they really do it? It’s fine to say those things or to look at my culture in admiration, but what drives that admiration and what narrative is it focused towards? Every single Black person has a different experience and story to tell. Which story is it that fascinates you so? And if you want to be Black, what are you doing for Black people? How are you contributing to the creating of platforms to tell these stories that you admire so?
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate and understand the admiration; however, Blackness is way more sacred than being a solution to one’s life problems.