Feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar territory is something that most of us have experienced or will experience at some point on our lives, but Wisconsin native Danielle Small says her struggle with feeling like an outsider goes far beyond the norm.

In an essay for Salon, Danielle, who is a Black woman, says her less-than-Black upbringing has caused her to feel “uncomfortable” around her own people for the majority of her life. She says not being abreast on common knowledge and mannerisms in Black culture has always made her fee like an outsider despite her brown skin and dreadlocks obviously solidifying her as a Black woman.

Danielle recalled coming face to face with her realization during a routine visit to her hair dresser.

It happened. I failed the “black” test. My hair stylist and I were chatting while she was taking a break from retightening my locs. I made a funny quip, and she extended her palm so that we could partake in the standard Black American handshake. In what was most likely the longest three seconds in the universe, I stared at her hand in befuddlement, trying to figure out what she was doing. By the time I realized that this was the handshake, it was too late. I tried to recover with some weird amalgamation of a fist bump and a high-five, but the damage had been done. I had revealed myself to be the Carlton to her Fresh Prince.

I replayed the scene over and over in my head during my walk to the train. How could I have been so oblivious to an obvious cultural norm? This set off a mini existential crisis where I came to one of my greatest philosophical epiphanies: I’m uncomfortable around black people. This is a peculiar realization being that I am also a black person.

She goes on to detail memories from her upbringing in a predominantly white Wisconsin suburb during which many of her white peers even challenged her “Blackness” by suggesting that she wasn’t really Black because she wasn’t familiar with seemingly common things in Black culture.

Like most psychological problems, it all began in my childhood, specifically the eight years I spent living in all white towns in rural Wisconsin. If there was one phrase I heard more than “nigger,” it was “You’re not black.” Talk about irony.

Sometimes it was phrased as a “compliment,” meaning you’re one of the good black people. But other times it was meant so white people, whose sole interaction with black culture came through the distorted lens of racist media, could assert their own twisted version of blackness over me.

“I’m blacker than you because I know more Tupac songs than you.”

“You’re not black. Your lips aren’t even that big.”

“You’re not even that black. Look, my ass is fatter than yours.”

“I know so many white girls that can gangsta walk better than you.”

“You’re not black, you can’t even dance!”

In the end, Danielle admits that keeping herself isolated under the assumption that she’d be dismissed as “not Black enough” by her own was to blame for her likely missing out on things that she would have enjoyed or benefitted from, like attending a HBCU or joining organizations that may very well have helped her overcome her life-long fear.

Who knows what I’ve missed out on? How many friends I could’ve made, how many organizations I didn’t join out of fear.

For years I isolated myself from the community that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. talks about, keeping potential sources of emotional support at arm’s length. And with new hashtags popping up every day, strong emotional support systems are needed more than ever.

White supremacy takes on many forms. It’s most visible as the daily physical assault on black lives. But we shouldn’t underestimate the psychological effects of something as seemingly simple as how we define what it means to be black.

While many of us may find Danielle’s struggle difficult to relate to or even understand, it is one that many African-Americans face or have faced in society. Her brave decision to open up about what she went through will likely help younger Black people who may be going through something similar overcome their fears and embrace their culture before spending large portions of their lives in the same self-imposed isolation that Danielle became accustomed to as a young woman.

You can read her full story HERE.

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  • binks

    I am so confused. Is there a “black test”? We have our own handshake? Why didn’t anybody tell me! But um…yeah I don’t know what to say here because she was seriously conditioned especially when she mentioned she was Carlton to her stylist’s Fresh Prince…um…both of these two characters was black. Just because they were raised differently and from different backgrounds doesn’t erase one blackness or exempt it. Why is being black always defined in a limited term or that Black Urban Culture sets the tone for blackness? As other said, black people and culture are not monolithic. Furthermore, just because you are black doesn’t mean you are automatically going to fit in with all black people just like all Asian people won’t fit in with all Asian people, white people with other white people, etc. this is not an uncommon or unnatural occurrence. The key is to find people you do fit in and that takes time and navigation among your peers. Hell, I was called a nerd growing up and I grew up around black people because me and my peers didn’t share the same interest. I also agree with those who said her parents failed her, regardless of where you live or who you are surrounded by one should always encourage love of one’s culture and identifying with it even if you don’t identify with certain segments in it.

  • mywordsaremypower

    I feel for her so badly. To be turned to think and feel like that. This should be a lesson to all black couples who decide to raise their kids in a white suburban area that they will end up feeling “uncomfortable”. Then when they decide to leave the nest they then realise your blackness plays a huge role in how people see you. You cannot cotton wool your kids when they are adults. She may of learned the easy way, next time it may of ended with her being assaulted or dead. SMH.

  • Bob

    She’s an @ss, I was usually the only non white in my LI neighborhoods in the 70’s, hung out in mostly white spaces BUT I was always thrilled as fvck to see another Black person in those venues. The funny thing is I only recently realized that when I was met with reticence from some of those Black people it was due to them wanting to be the only “magic” negro in the crowd and also acknowledging me would only draw attention to their Blackness. Some Black people really do delude themselves that they somehow become colorless to whites/ non Blacks that they socialize with.

    Several times I went to predominately Black schools for short sessions during various moves and was treated like an alien and made fun of because of how I talked and my interests…..it never bothered me, it didn’t dissuade me from seeking out other Black people. I guess some of us are not so easily brainwashed by white supremacy, in fact, my upbringing has afforded me a lot of knowledge about white people, their privilege and sometimes unconscious racism which lead me to be more Blackcentric. Yes, i do have friends that are white that are like family, however, I make sure they know where I stand on racial issues and brook no disrespect. Social media has helped me to prune many a useless branch off my tree of life.

  • PirmasensVet

    I’m sorry, I am from Akron, Ohio where there are black people, however, when you are downtown at lunch time, you may not see to many of us dressed up in suits and ties. We are black people living in a mostly white city. Went to Atlanta for Freak Neek (you gotta be older than 30 to know bout this) and went downtown. We were surrounded by black professionals. We had never seen so many black professional people in our life. We felt so proud to be in that moment. Even walking around Atlanta and going to clubs and parks we were surrounded by black people. We loved it! I feel sorry for this lady, I really do. On another note, I need to see a vine of this black handshake lol.

  • Lisa547

    I actually seek out other black women with similar taste in men and music, I am always so thrilled to meet and befriend one that maybe I don’t take the time to vet their character properly… because all have betrayed me and let me down. The most recent time was February and it still smarts. And yet I still yearn for my black soul sister to bond with, that indie-rock loving black gal I can go to concerts with. Maybe one day I will find one who will stay. Finding a great, lasting bond isn’t easy no matter what the race or the relationship type, though.
    As for the men… I will always be more comfortable with white men than black and Asian ones. I DO have a few black male acquaintances though we don’t have as easy of a rapport and as much in common as me and my white male buddies. I’ve got no Asian ones. That is just the way the cookie crumbles, it seems.