You are born Black. You will be able to make yourself more Black, but never less. You will not be able to step away from your Blackness even if it would be for only a moment or so.. This is the Black-life that was chosen for you and therefore, this is the black-life you will live! And it doesn’t matter if your mother was a Cherokee princess or your grandfather was a Russian Czar. It doesn’t matter if you look more like a Juno-Eskimo than a 125th Street-Harlem-Sister or more like a freckled-faced Irishman than a Montgomery Southern-Bro. In the end, the One-Ounce-Blood-Rule applies all the time, all the time, all the time!
So the fact that my grandfather, a Jamaican man who took no shit from anyone, regardless of the color of their skin, a man who in no way worshiped white, but who also, in no way romanticized Black, called himself Brown, is cause for serious controversy in the binary world of Black and White we live in today. And he didn’t care what kind of fist you were raising up in the air or what kind of dashiki you were wearing or how many extra vowels you added to your name to Africanize yourself more than the most African soul on earth. As far as he was concerned, he was born Brown and would die Brown, and if you didn’t like it, then you could go to hell.
And before some of you “Conscious” Brothers and Sisters go for your rhetorical handguns or your literary switchblades, you need to understand that my grandfather was definitely not one of the UptownBrownFolks (Jamaican lighter skin folks who tend to hide the pictures of their blueblack granny under pictures of their whiter-than-white greater-than-great-grandfathers), folks who pray at the altar of their Scottish ancestors or their English Gods. When my grandfather, Papa, spoke of Ancestral lines, he spoke of stories of Irishmen and stories of Zulus, stories he meant for us to never forget, especially the Zulu story given to him like a gift from his mother, or mother’s mother. Time has blurred the lines of memory here, but regardless, according to some maternal bloodline-voice, we are descended from Zulus. And this divine matriarch from way back when let him know in no uncertain terms, “Don’t You Let Any Of Our Descendants Forget It.”
Also, before you go into full attack mode, which many of you are probably already doing, because not for nothing, but for those of you not in the know, this Brown conversation is like a fusion bomb in the blogopshere of Blackness, before you use the classic line, “Everyone is brown until they call you nigger.”, before all of this shit and more, let me just say, “I am not trying to start a fight. This is a memory about my grandfather. And you can argue about his whole I-Am-Brown mantra, but don’t take that shit too far. Because in the end, he was my grandfather and in the grand Black tradition of Don’t Talk About My Family, let me simply say, “Don’t talk about my family or it’s the playground at 3.”
I mention Papa’s thing about being Brown to say that he made me realize at an early age that my identity didn’t have to be completely tied to the rules of any particular system of beliefs I happened to be living under at any given time of my life. But for a certain group of you, the group of you just waiting for the chance to shoot me down, let me get to the point these words are driving at…
Am I Black?
Hell to the Yes I am Black. But this Blackness is the Blackness of the lines of defense. These are the lines that are drawn when one lives in a society that many times demand one take a side in the very struggle of not only one’s immediate family to survive, but of all the families of color in the United States, who suffer as a result of the One-Ounce-Rule that defines us not so much in spiritual terms, but mostly in institutionalized-systemic terms. Being Brown will not lessen your oppression in the eyes of America so how in hell can one be anything but Black?!
And yet…. I am also Other in a way that mostly only Others understand. When a Trini guy at school once touched my hair and made some joke about being Chiny and he and I got into it, I was not thinking he was attacking my blackness, but rather, I felt that he was attacking my Otherness. When I sit in rooms with conscious brothers and sisters and they poetically rhapsodize about the divine nature of Being Black, about the hidden black gems in our wombs and our penises, all those black gems that are like golden nuggets from the holy belly of all the Loas of our Ancestral History, I have to admit that I feel that what they are doing is less about “Being Black” as it is about being tribal.
But whatever, to each their own, right… Except that more times than not, it’s not really about To Each Their Own when people are attached to tribal identities of any sort. Yes, we live in an oppressive state where any form of blackness is criminalized in every systemic way possible. Yes, many of us Black Folks have serious self-hate issues and more times than not, will go out of our way to erase all aspects of our Blackness from our lives. Yes, most times when people say they are Brown, especially Jamaican people, it is hard not to see it as yet more Black folks trying to deny the Black blood that is running in their veins. Yes, all of it is twisted and sad and tragic and will forever be a legacy of slavery. All of this is true and more, and yet..
What is also true is that there are conversations that get lost in the racial mix that pollute our consciousness. There are Other Identities that believe it or not, in certain states of being, exist somewhat, not totally, but somewhat, outside all the other conversations that are easier to have about being Black or White. There are times when I stand firm and strong in my Blackness and there are other times when I stand firm and strong in my Otherness. I have had many, many, many racist incidents in my life where I have been on the receiving end of some serious, sometimes even life-threatening-serious, racist shit. But I have also been on the end of some interesting interactions with my “own folks” where I have had to defend my Otherness with more than just words. And I am not the only one.. My father was messed with for being too white by black kids and then messed with for being too Black by white kids… Friends of mine had to deal with the racist realities of being black in schools and jobs but at the same time had to defend their Otherness in fights in school yards. And yes, this is not true for everyone who is mixed (there I said it… Mixed… Deal with it), but it is a conversation that is just as important to have as the conversations about BEING BLACK IN AMERICA AND THE WORLD….
I once heard somebody ask my grandfather why he called himself Brown. He took his pipe away from his mouth, blew some smoke in the air, looked at the person with one Insane-Jamaican-Judging look and said, “What happen, you blind or what, you don’t see the color of my skin is Brown.”