About once a month, I have a conversation that—after the initial introductions are made and small talk is in full swing—goes something along these lines:
“So where you from?”
“I live in D.C. In southeast.”
“No. I mean, where are you originally from? Are you Dominican?”
And so on and so forth as we play Name That Nationality through a few more countries and implied ethnicities until at last I reveal that I’m just Black. Plain ol’, regular ol’, everyday ol’, grade A basic African-American. No frills, no spices, no extra ingredients added.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what I look like. There ain’t a thing on this face or body that would indicate that I’m anything other than your average Black chick. I got a head full of Black hair and a nondescript complexion and a set of big lips sent straight from my African ancestors. But there’s something in my personhood that tips dudes off that I’m supposed to be checking the “other” box on the Census form.
So when they find out that’s not the case, the disappointment is almost palpable. And that particular conversation is usually over. I find that folks who spend their time digging to find out what someone “is” tend to grow quickly disinterested when they find out that they “isn’t.”
We’re a people who loves to one up ourselves. It was good to have a Benz, then a Jag, then a Maybach. In the same vein, light-skinned girls were the must-have arm candy. Then all of this “We Are the World” racial utopia-chasing cleared the coast for brothers to date white girls. Now being a quarter-this and half-that makes a woman just the right blend of exotic and desirable.
It’s the math equation of our ages: what do you get when you mix some Venezuelan with a touch of Scottish, a bit of Black and just a twist of Japanese? As far as I can tell, you get a gal who won’t stay single long or, at the very least, won’t want for dates and doting male attention.
It’s a win-win for the brothers because they get to stay on the right side of the white girl debate without getting their chops busted by disgruntled Black chicks, but they get the racial ambiguity and sexy 31-flavored blend that produces light skin, fine hair and—maybe, just maybe, if the benevolent gods who hand out genetic traits are feeling generous—those voluptuous sista girl body parts of love that bring all the boys to the yard. Memphis Bleek (remember him?) said it, and plenty of dudes are willing to co-sign on their desire for a chick with Chinese eyes, Indian hair, and a Black girl ass.
I’m not a fan of King magazine, for what I think are obvious reasons. Aside from 1,001 ways to masterfully execute the illustrious T&A shot, they don’t stand out in my mind as a pillar of journalistic excellence. I hate everything Playboy stands for too, but despite my aversion I have actually read some good articles in between the nudie spreads. King? Not so much.
Still, I try to be a girl about pop culture, so I flipped through the pages of a special issue a few months ago when my favorite Borders was sadly closing its doors. I don’t know if it’s impressive or bewildering that King editors never seem to have a problem finding a new lineup of models willing to spread ‘em for the visual enjoyment of their readers. But hey, if you believe your calling is to be the reason why dudes keep a jar of Vaseline and a roll of tissue by their beds, more power to ya.
In between all the posing and pouting going on on those pages, I also noticed an odd cultural phenomenon. Not a single one of those women was just Black. Plain ol’ regular, everyday Black, four or five generations removed from their last white relative. Instead, those girls got real creative with their heritage—which, for some reason, was listed along with the rest of their stats like hometown and body measurements. A quick look at one model’s beautiful chocolatey complexion and ample lips, and I naturally knew she was a sista. But when I skimmed the details about her, she listed her heritage as Irish, Native American, Jamaican and oh yeah, African-American.
If ever you could slap a magazine page and have the person on the other side feel it, that’s what I wanted to do. I shouted her a mental holler: Girl, you are Black. B-l-a-c-k. You needed one line to sum up that information. Get real.
Everybody else followed suit. For the rest of the pages, they were Black and Welsh. Black and all kinds of Latino. And everybody got Indian in their family, ‘cause Cherokee was shouted out more times than a few. I mean, as many folks who’ve traced back to their Cherokee roots you would think that tribe started out 30 million deep. Can somebody please at least get creative and say they’re Sioux? Or Choctaw? Ease up on all the Cherokee-ing and surprise me a little bit.
It’s a real pity when what you are isn’t what you think is good enough. If we all shake down our family trees, we’re guaranteed to find a surprise or two hidden there, especially since most of our families survived the dark days of enslavement. But when being Black in and of itself isn’t the one thing a woman can hold up and be proud of, it makes me wish Black Cards were real. Because I’d be rolling on folks and ripping them suckas up, having them revoked and stomping them bad boys out. Being Black isn’t an accessory to a glamorous concoction and it’s bigger than being touted to add a touch of street cred. It’s a full experience. So experience it, already.