An Interesting Holiday Lesson

My family is steeped in social norms. I went to my grandma’s house to eat and see relatives on Christmas like I have done every year since the day I was born. But since high school, my values and perspective on life and society have changed. I notice that I am not like my extended family (plus my mom). We are all African Americans, but other than that I couldn’t be any more different and I don’t know how to feel about that. All of the men and women conform strictly to gender roles and gender expression. With the exception of two cousins who are “openly” homosexual, everyone is heterosexual. Before we ate, everyone was required to hold hands and pray about how they “are nothing” without the Christian god as their sole deity, and how the family gathering and good will and spirits were only possible because of this god. They are all democrats but they still hold steadfast to traditional values and institutions. My values and lifestyle aspirations tend to lie in social anarchism. When I greeted many of my relatives, something strange happened.

Thankfully I was not questioned about my androgyny. I was wearing a grey women’s buttoned-up shirt. My dark green denim pants were rolled up enough to reveal my white socks old low top Doc Martin’s. I was looking very spiffy. A few women said I looked cute, so I guess I still looked very feminine (darn). Then, I was asked by many relatives about if I “met any boys.” My standard reply was, “No, I’m not interested in anyone right now.” What I really wanted to say was, “No lucky guys or girls yet!” I was afraid of creating confusion and having to explain my sexuality over and over again. And lastly I was one of four people with “natural hairstyles” – I, my second cousin and his husband have dreadlocks; one boy had his locks undone into an afro.

I feel very out of place. I keep getting questioned about if there are any black people at my school or in the town – even what percentage. My uncle gave me the “Africana” encyclopedia. I haven’t read it, but he says that although I don’t do African American studies, I should read it because it is part of who I am as a person. My dad said recently that I need more exposure to African Americans, because I “have no idea really how black people are.” At the Christmas dinner a relative I had never seen before came up to me and said how proud he was of me going to college because “we need more African American women doing their thing.” Then he went on a tangent about how there are no African American women at his job and how he’s the only African American there. Earlier, when it started to rain and a few relatives went inside to avoid getting their hair wet, one cousin remarked, “Yeah, n***** don’t like the rain ’cause they be tryna protect they hair.” It was supposed to be a joke I guess…

This constant pressure to “be black” and “act black” is confusing and frustrating. There seems to be a lot riding on my decisions in life that are tied to the lot of African Americans, so much tracking of success and failure. Even the term Black is vague at best. Besides slavery, civil rights, inventions, and increasing integration into mainstream society  – what “history” do “we” have? What if my ancestors were part of a group who decided to come to North America on their own? What if I were to actually find out what country in Africa my ancestors came from, say Sudan, – am I suddenly Sudanese? Should I have to travel there and see the purported tribal site and learn their language(s) and customs, which by the present day have been greatly changed by European relations in the past? (Sudan is even in the middle of a country divide due to conflict from various cultural and religious differences.) It sounds like a joke or an exaggeration, but I have honestly heard black people say how they wish they could know where “they” came from so that they can go there and learn about “themselves.” All of this makes me wonder – If I do not:

-express my gender based on my biological sex with many of the fashions I see black women wearing
-tune in to “black news” “black radio” and “black television”
-know extensive amounts of “black history”
-feel connected to depictions of black people like the CNN special, “Black in America”

Can I be considered an “African American” or “Black” person? I don’t know what to consider myself as, besides a person. I don’t know my lineage or history in detail. My Dad is from Panama and speaks Spanish and English, although his parents grew up in Jamaica. From various people on my Mom’s side, I hear there’s Irish, Jamaican, and Blackfoot Native American. I only speak English. I’ve lived in America since the day I was born. What else should I be or do?


Posted on December 26, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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