2010 BET Awards: Proud to be Black
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Monday night February 1, 2010 I watched the BET honors, anxiously waiting to get a glimpse of my best friend who was singing with Ray Chew and the Band for the show, after a 5 second shot of her I settled into viewing the show.  During which an uncomfortable nondescript disposition wrapped itself around me as I watched and listened.

Gabriel Union looked beautiful as she hosted the ceremony, I saw her in a pre-show interview earlier in the day, and she said that the biggest honor was when she is applauded by her people.  Sean “Diddy” Combs was an honoree, he told of his childhood and the hardships, the struggle of his single black mother and her multiple jobs.  He referenced what song made a difference in his childhood, James Brown I’m black and I’m proud.  The night continued with the same theme, being proud of being black; as other honorees Queen Latifah and Whitney sat next to their mothers.

sean_combs1 latifahwhitney2

The sensation that grew as I watched the show was reminiscent of my childhood.  I also recall hearing James Brown in the streets of Queens, NY where I grew up, when I heard”Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud”, it meant something very different to me; I wanted to hide my mother, make sure no one knew—knew that she was white.  The Black Panthers (also)  marched down our street when I was a child, chanting, ungawa, black power, destroy white boy…I remember those words as if it were yesterday.  When Brown screamed, or the Panters rallied, I knew then I wasn’t really black.  You couldn’t play for both teams at the same time, how could I shout out destroy white boy…when Mommy was white, and she was home making cookies.

As I watched the camera cut between the beautiful shades of chocolate, caramel and dark chocolate; honorees seated with their mothers that looked like them; I remembered being a child and wishing I had a black mother.  Wishing I could go outside without people staring or asking was that “white lady’ my mother with disgust, or asking her if I was lost when we were in a store and I was standing next to her hand in hand.  I remembered being in an all black school and the feeling of my white mother walking into the school, and the shame I felt.  I don’t know why now watching this show in this moment as an adult these feelings came over me.
Maybe it’s because Mom is up close these days, my mother is currently living with my husband and I, she is a frail 80 year old woman now (we have not lived together since I was 15 yrs old for more than 2 wks).  Somehow the pain of my childhood became very clear while I was watching BET, I guess I realized in that moment, I really am not black.  I know I have been shouting I’m biracial for some years now, but it became crystal clear, I am a woman of color—of course.  I have been followed in stores while wearing a mink coat, I have been profiled more times than I can count, I am a classic victim of the cab passing me by in New York to pick up a white person…but I am not Black.
What I realized watching BET, is black and white is very much divided, we can’t pretend its not.  While everyone wants equality, it looks to be almost impossible as long as separatism is the basic rule of racial identity.  If blacks have TV designed just for blacks and whites just for whites, how will we ever become one people, American people?  People beyond the perception of what we think of each other; in a world that is controlled by whites, if blacks’ identify as their own group and not the larger group how can there be universal growth?  I’m just asking.
I am trying to understand this structure of divide and what equation will bring us closer.  I felt on the outside of black people Monday night, I would not have been comfortable with my mother seated next to me at that event.  Maybe that’s my trip—but honestly, I know better.  I have people that I love that still talk about white people in a way I find very offensive.  I understand it, but it doesn’t make me like it.
That doesn’t mean there is a better comfort level with white people.  Let me back up, I am not saying I am not comfortable with black people, my closest friends are black (and mixed) and Filipino and Latino and white; but that doesn’t change how it feels on the inside to be me with tan skin, with a white mother.  How my heart races when I hear a generalization about white people, or this white mother fucker…this or that.  I get it, its complex but I do get it when black people sometimes go on about whites, I have had my days where I am apart of that chorus, and those days equally hurt, make my heart race. It becomes an internal complexity that I have not completely worked out.
A few months ago I had to meet my realtor to go over some contracts at a popular local deli, I have been there before, but clearly we were meeting at an off hour as the entire line of patrons were elderly white woman, a few middle aged ones sprinkled in.  I didn’t see Betty, so I got in line to order lunch to go.  This was an almost first for me, (another southern moment), as I stood in line I had this feeling of being invisible, I realized not one woman would/or did make eye contact.  I have found overall that folks smile and speak in the south.  It really didn’t matter; I am a NY’er so not speaking is fine with me.  But…this was different, as the lined progressed forward I realized that these woman really didn’t see me, with my WIDE tannish ass, they assumed I was either a wax figure, or working for one of these ancient figures that could barely walk.  They literally pushed past me.  I stood there for a minute, it was an almost out of body experience.  I watched this happening—trying to decide how to handle it.  I actually felt like crying for so many reasons, I wondered, why can’t you see me?  What makes you think I don’t belong in front of you when I got here first?  My mind was racing, I remember this clearly (thinking), look at me—you don’t see my mother at all.  I look like her you can’t see her in me?  As time moved in slow motion, I was jolted out of my trance like state by a voice; I quickly turned my attention to the sound of a man.  It was the young guy behind the counter—he asked, “Weren’t you next”  Time transitioned back into real time, I replied, “yes”  He continued, “I thought you were…what can I get you?”
I ordered my curry chicken salad and water, when we got to the register, he told me the water was on him and he was sorry.  I just looked at him—holding back tears, not quite sure (if they were of) pain or anger, his eyes had compassion—understanding, his eyes told me he would have had a hand in the underground railroad, he would have fought for equality during the civil rights movement, his eyes told me he saw me and that the world is changing, its generational—as time moves forward the relics of hatred will die off.

When I went outside to sit and wait for Betty, to my surprise she was already seated at a table.  Betty is a 60 year old polished, wealthy (white) woman—been a realtor for 35 years made some great investments as well as married well.  I didn’t let on there was an incident inside (after my husband and I got approved for the loan, Betty learned a thing or two about perception as well), decided to just handle the business at hand.  As a couple of the old geezers made their way out of the door, I decided to take my power back and to affirm, that they don’t decide what I think of myself, they have no power over my life.  I was reviewing the final punch list before the signing on a fabulous new home, my mother had always told me no one was better than me, this day was the last day I would ever sit back, lean back, stay in the back, be pushed back…it doesn’t mean I’m going to knock an old white lady down, cuz more than likely she will look like my Mom, but if I need to create a teaching moment and call her out—I will.

I’d really just like to know how do we come together, how do we stop looking at each other from the out side in,  and realize who we really are is from the inside out.




















Comments (2)
  • Kaolin  - Invisibility

    Hi Carolyn --

    There are so many issues in this article one could address. ( have read each of yur articles in fact)I will try to stay with a central one, which seems to be the issue of invisibility, and I thank you for posting the photo of your mother on your blog by the way.

    My own experience as a white woman with two biracial adult children is similar though obviously not the same, with regard to the dismissal of black women in my upbringing; the quandry between my own daughter's
    desire to remain loyal to me, while she was under seige and encourged to deny me by her peers in public, deeming me invisible: The tendency for white people to steer away from us when there were issues because what would they know about it? We were no longer mother and daughter when in conflict and needing support. Instead I became white and she became black to others
    so in essence we were to expect "trouble." And we got it. We got alienation and invisibility and were left to our own devices numerous times.

    Years of friendships went down the tubes overnight when the full recognition that she was biracial and I was white kicked-in and our "issues" were not the same as black on black or white on white. As others were befuddled and confused and wanted out, they could recoil in their prejudices with satisfaction that mixed marriages and children from them is not a "good thing."

    We got through that and came out on top.

    We had specific, highly individualized issues to work through no doubt - because of the racism we were subjected to. And we worked, and worked and worked on it -- returning always to our love, happiness, freedom and a privacy that only white moms with biracial daughters can truly know about and understand. No one else is privy to it which can be a gift and a burden. But it is our gift and our burden, unique only to us. So I am so glad you write and work on it and give it back to us to think about, work through and reveal how it has shaped us.

    The chain of heartbreaking notions regarding who is black and who is not, that my daughter and her brother had to sift through (and will have to for the rest of their lives) as if they have no voice that really matters, or that tells you who they are ..., as if their lives depend upon it(because at times it has)in addition to who I am and my importance to them, has given them no easy road to travel.

    Life and love doesn't guaruntee 'easy.'

    When combined with the assumption...

  • Kaolin  - Must have written too much ...

    A third of this is missing, So sorry.
    Should have printed it out first, just in case. Will post a comment another time. Peace & Love, Kaolin

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