When I was a toddler, my skin was light brown, and I had no eyebrows. I was always a quiet kid who was always off in his own world (still am, actually). My curious, inverted, and introspective nature often left me clueless concerning the social atmosphere surrounding me.
My mother is a firebrand, a real extrovert who never had any trouble speaking her mind. She’s a strong-willed Black woman who has always gotten shit done no matter what obstacles stood in her way.
My adoptive father is the coolest man I know, the kind of person who could make friends anywhere he went. It seemed that he knew everyone in town, and everyone knew him — but I was a different story.
“You speak like a white boy!”
I didn’t talk much, and when I did, I was often treated to various reactions. If I addressed Black adults, they would compliment me on my manners and how well I spoke.
White adults also said that I spoke well, but it always felt a bit different. Often teachers would tell my parents, “your son speaks so well!” saying it with a note of delightful surprise.
It took years before I began to understand why it bothered me.
White adults also said that I spoke well, but it always felt a bit different.
When it came to my Black peers, they would tease and mock my speech, proclaiming that I spoke: “like a white boy.” This is one of the reasons why growing up, the only peer group I ever felt comfortable with were white children.
I can safely say that about 95% of my friends were white.
My grandmother had a tremendous influence on my personality. She was a bit like my mom, never holding her tongue for anyone. And while she did have her “street” side, she also had a very sophisticated side, the one I got to know very well.
My grandmother always corrected my language, forcing me to use “proper English.” She was one of my idols in life, and earning her pride was the best feeling in the world.
My grandmother always corrected my language, forcing me to use “proper English.”
The odd duck
So there I was a short, skinny, Black kid, growing up in the ’80s in a mostly Black neighborhood in the white-flight city of Kenner, Louisiana.
While the Black church surrounded me as a child (my uncle and grandfather were both reverends), I never felt at home at church. For one thing, I couldn’t stand all the singing, and it just bothered me for some reason.
However, I did enjoy Bible study discussions. I was always the kid who asked “too many questions,” demanding that the teacher explain every passage in detail.
If you’ve been to Bible study, then you can imagine how annoyed the teachers were with me, considering that they barely had a cursory understanding of what they were teaching themselves (a condition that was also common among teachers in Louisiana public schools).
My inquisitive nature would always make other Black kids, whether in Bible class or school, uncomfortable.
They would usually tell me to “pray on it,” and move on or tell me to be quiet for the rest of the class.
My inquisitive nature would always make other Black kids, whether in Bible class or school, uncomfortable. And they would always ask me, “why you ask so many questions?”
Of course, I never had a good answer back then, and honestly, I still don’t today.
White TV pop culture with a side of Blackness
During the 80’s I was obsessed with cartoons like Scooby-Doo, the transformers, and He-Man. I had all the action figures and would spend hours alone playing with them.
My dad once brought me a cheap Black action figure that he said was better than He-Man. However, I did not place any greater value on it than I did on any of my other hunks of hard plastic.
When not playing with toys, I was watching TV or playing video games. Most of the TV shows and movies I watched featured all (or nearly all) white actors.
However, I did enjoy a few black TV shows such as Sandford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, What’s Happening (and What’s Happening Now), 227, Roc, A Different World, The Cosby Show, and of course, The Fresh Prince of Belaire.
Many poor Black children have no concept of the Black middle-class lifestyle, and many of those shows set a good example.
I’m forever grateful for these shows, as they gave me a glimpse into a Black world I would have otherwise been ignorant of. While I can’t say I grew up poor, I grew up close to poverty.
Many poor Black children have no concept of the Black middle-class lifestyle, and many of those shows set a good example.
Good Times will always hold a special place in my heart, as the show dealt with many real-life hardships Black people face every day while portraying most of their characters in a very realistic and human light.
We can probably debate the merits and demerits of “Jimmy Walker’s “J.J” character in a different discussion, hell maybe even an entire college course.
However, my favorite character in the show was John Amos’ portrayal of the family patriarch, James Evans. His character reminded me a lot of my father, gruff and at times explosive, tender, and funny with a heart of gold.
Most of the shows I watched featured mostly white actors.
However, as I mentioned, most of the shows I watched featured mostly white actors. I loved sitcoms such as Cheers, Roxanne, and Night Court. I also watched shows like McGyver, Maimi Vice, Magnum P.I, and Murder She Wrote (my grandmother’s favorite).
Then you had movies like Ghostbusters and Dirty Harry. I could probably go on for another couple thousand words naming shows and movies, but you get the idea. Most of my free time consisted of consuming white TV culture.
My addiction to white music
My love of white culture also enhanced my divorce from my Black peers. I rarely listened to music, save for maybe Michael Jackson, when I was a child.
And while I was always surrounded by Black music such as Al Green, Billy Ocean, Bob Marley, and James Brown, I always regarded their songs as background noise, something a part of the atmosphere in most Black spaces.
My love of white culture also enhanced my divorce from my Black peers.
I didn’t really get into music until my teen years. That’s when a white friend recommended that I listen to Jimmy Hendrix. When I bought his CD from one of those Columbia House offers I found in a magazine, I was blown away.
The first Hendrix song I ever heard was “Along the Watchtower,” and from there, I was hooked to this strange, “new” music. By then, I knew enough to keep my taste in music a secret from my Black peers, as I knew everything I liked would be mocked and teased.
Growing up, I never thought much about my “Blackness.” My feelings toward my culture mixed. For example, I saw older Black adults such as my parents differently than my Black peers.
I saw older Black adults such as my parents differently than my Black peers.
I admired the strength, intelligence, and confidence of many Black adults in my life, who always encouraged me to do well in school. However, as for my Black peers, I mostly felt contempt.
While other Black kids harshly judged me because of how I expressed myself, I judged them for their lack of sophistication. It was only later that I learned there was a name for Black people like me in the community — Bourgeois (Booswah or Booshy).
It was only later that I learned there was a name for Black people like me in the community — Bourgeois.
The Black kids felt I thought I was better than they were, and I began to believe I was after a while.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not communicate on their level. Being among other Black children sometimes felt like being in a foreign country, especially in heavy slang.
I envied them because my parents could navigate their world easily, while I could barely comprehend.
Being among other Black children sometimes felt like being in a foreign country, especially in heavy slang.
The Uncle Ruckus years
My journey took me through many strange places. After high school, I fancied myself a Black Evangelical Conservative after watching Neocon named Bob Enyart week after week on public access TV.
Bob preached many of the familiar political talking points that conservatives spout today on Fox News. He talked about how Black people’s poor culture was why they were not getting ahead, referring specifically to “Gansta Rap” and “welfare.”
Enyart also talked about other things, such as the sin of homosexuality and abortion. I used to even call into his show from time to time. But, eventually, I stopped watching as my religious zeal gave way to more “worldly” interests.
I also fell into the local heavy metal scene during this time, hanging out with white headbangers.
There was rarely a night when some drunk white guy didn’t come up to me and wish to tell me a racist joke.
My first experience in their strange world was when I was about 22. I found my way to a little section of Metairie, Louisiana called “Fat City.” This area was pretty small, consisting of a couple of bars and one strip club. Many locals would hang out instead of going out to the city (New Orleans) and dealing with the drunk tourists.
One night, I found my way to a metal club called Zepplin’s. The place wasn’t huge, but it did have a small stage and dance floor. Upon my first visit, I’d gotten pretty drunk and threw up all over their floor. The bouncer was very kind as he walked me out, recommending that I walk down to another bar and drink some water to sober up.
The person who helped get me drunk as a skunk that first night was Levi, a prevalent figure in the community and the only other Black man at the club.
Levi is one of the most colorful characters you’ll ever meet. He’s a diehard headbanger who plays music and worked as a roadie for many of the biggest names in the industry. If you were to walk into any metal bar, you would know he was there almost immediately after hearing his high-pitched, scratchy voice.
I always thought he sound like a Black version of Ren from “Ren and Stimpy” on helium.”
The racial politics of the local metal scene was pretty toxic. There was rarely a night when some drunk white guy didn’t come up to me and wish to tell me a racist joke.
I understood that it was their way of trying to “break the ice” and feel more comfortable, so I never took their jokes personally — after all, I’d always felt apart from my culture anyway.
I was always treated with kindness by this community despite their glorification of racist fascists.
Levi and his friends were strong supporters of the Confederacy, wearing confederate flag bandanas and tattoos while telling stories about the “Lost Cause.” I took in all of their notions with an open mind, as I didn’t know any better at the time.
It took a long time before I de-programmed this narrative out of my mind, as I was always treated with kindness by this community despite their glorification of racist fascists.
For most folks, their politics or the way they see certain social issues, such as racism, has a lot to do with the people they admire, be it family or friends.
After leaving Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina, I lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. Once there, I began to build adult friendships with other Black people and found my perspectives changing once again.
After deep introspection, I’d come to understand how my quiet, non-confrontational nature allowed people who support white supremacy to influence my thinking.
My quiet, non-confrontational nature allowed people who support white supremacy to influence my thinking.
Once I left my old environment, I was able to look at those notions and attitudes with fresh eyes. However, while I’m no longer a conservative, I’m not exactly what you would call a part of the “Hotep” culture either. I often find that this community has too many “supremacist” over- and undertones that I cannot agree with.
And while I can understand the psychological necessity for some to believe they are descendants of “African Kings and Queens,” the same logic-based mindset that never allowed me to become a Christian doesn’t allow me to believe that either. In truth, I think most of us are probably the descendants of the poor people treated like dirt while attending to the needs of African kings and queens.
In truth, I think most of us are probably the descendants of the poor people treated like dirt while attending to the needs of African kings and queens.
Later, I began writing left-leaning political articles while listening to audiobooks by authors like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zen. More recently, I discovered James Baldwin and Richard Wright, and my world changed once again.
I’ve finished most of Baldwin’s books and essays, and I’m three books into Wright. Next, I’m going to get started on Toni Morrison.
LIAWWWB: Living In A White World While Black
Over the course of my 43-year journey on this planet, I’m still coming to terms with my Black skin and the rich history and promise engrained into it. While I don’t feel my skin makes me more special than any other race, I do recognize the pain and struggle I’ve inherited because of it.
Recently, my wife Tiffany (a white woman) sent in my DNA to help figure out my ancestry and ethnicity. While she understood that most Black people could not trace their roots back as far as most whites because of slavery, she expressed shock at just how difficult a task tracing African American ancestry is.
I’m still coming to terms with my Black skin and the rich history and promise engrained into it.
It turns out that even post-slavery, keeping track of Black people proved very difficult in some cases, as names were commonly misspelled, and many chose to take up new identities.
So far, my wife worked incredibly hard to find distant relatives I never knew existed and even helped me relocate and reconnect with my biological father.
I learned that I’m over 70 percent African and mostly Western European upon receiving my test results. After watching a few episodes of Finding Your Roots, I saw how surprised many Black people were after learning how much European DNA they had. It turns out that if you’re an African American, it’s likely you have a large portion of white blood in you.
If you’re an African American, it’s likely you have a large portion of white blood in you.
A white friend, who knew this fact, once asked me why most Black people don’t embrace their white DNA as much as their Black. He specifically cited Barrack Obama as an example.
I told him that Black people in America are swimming in whiteness as though it were an ocean. There’s no need for us to “embrace” our “whiteness” as it’s ever-present in our lives, to the extent that many of us seem alien to people living in Africa. In fact, I’ve heard that many Africans refer to African Americans as white.
Black people in America are swimming in whiteness as though it were an ocean.
For many white people, colorblindness is their solution for dealing with race. However, they fail to understand that “not seeing race” is another example of their privilege (a word that drives white conservatives crazy).
I had a drunk white man confess to me that in his eyes, he saw me as a “white man.”
Once while hanging out at Zepplin’s, I had a drunk white man confess to me that in his eyes, he saw me as a “white man.” I understood that it was his clumsy way of saying he accepted me as a friend. However, later I would understand that seeing me as white was the only way someone like him could ever accept a minority as a friend.
In 2020, the world-shaking shock of watching George Floyd murdered before a crowd of Black people was just another reminder of how no African-American can ever afford to forget their skin — no matter how much they would like to.