It's not about being "black enough" or "white enough," Ryant Taylor writes.
I was made to believe that I mattered more than other black people growing up. I was the smart black kid. I liked to read books. I didn’t mind getting good grades. I spoke “Standard English.” I was constantly aware of the stereotypes that were so believed and accepted about my race. I was raised to combat these.
I was told I had potential and that I would be good for society.
I was on track to be a black intellectual: college; a house; a wife; two kids; a shiny dog; a career as a lawyer, doctor or journalist. My family’s eyes would gleam in pride over my moral and racial superiority every time I returned to the urban sprawl of Cleveland. I was to be black, while also turning away from my inherent blackness, seen by others as uncivilized and radical.
Life, however, shoved these plans down a flight of stairs. My classmates, who were predominantly black, teased me for liking school and books. I was gay. My family, once so keen on bragging about me, wanted to hide my true self behind closed doors. In many ways, I believe the process of coming out truly opened up my eyes to hypocrisies of race, identity and culture. It was then when I realized that no matter what I did as a minority, whether it be fulfilling stereotypes or not, I would always be subject to scrutiny by people within and outside of my race. No one had warned me that, regardless of whom I chose to be, I was bound to be seen as inauthentic or as a traitor to my race.
It was through grappling with the confusion of this realization that I began to understand something — that there are different levels of identity, especially within different races, and that these levels of racial authenticity are valued differently.
I despise the fact that my voice as a black man in America is considered more valuable because I, through simply being myself, unconsciously cater to ideals of “whiteness,” which are also used to delegitimize the voices of black people who are considered “ghetto.” Why should my voice be heard more?
In October, I visited Ferguson, Missouri, and for the first time, I felt pride in fellow black people. I witnessed black emotion unconcerned with skin color or combating stereotypes. We were human beings, black, white and beyond, and we were demanding fair treatment from the media, justice system and everyone in between.
We were uncaring to claims that we were angry, ignorant blacks. We believed we mattered and that our suffering meant something. In Ferguson, I realized I wanted to matter no more or less than any other person — especially a black person — and that I was willing to fight for that reality.
At Ohio University, I see how dangerous it is to perpetuate blackness or whiteness. Seldom does anyone feel safe criticizing President Roderick McDavis because he is a black man who overcame White America to be in a position of power. We must forget about the Board of Trustees handing President McDavis an $85,000 bonus last year. We must forget that at the MLK Day Brunch earlier this semester, he told a room full of minorities that the police are “here to protect us, even in certain situations.” His position requires that he does not radically challenge the status quo.
Blacks who do not challenge the status quo are more valuable because they are safe.
The protesters in Ferguson, on the other hand, do challenge the status quo. The reality is that their city is rampant with geographic and socioeconomic segregation and predatory policing. Much of the rioting, which was only a small portion of the protesting overall, was instigated by police mistreatment. According to the media, however, the protesters are simply ordinary, violent blacks demanding special treatment. Because of this inherently racist and archaic analysis, the seemingly detached public is able to ignore their cries.
As a country, we seem to prefer stories concerned with peoples’ blackness or whiteness, as opposed to our humanness.
Furthermore, this racial binary is outside of and within racial groups as well. Since going to Ferguson, I ache for a day when we truly live the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr., painted for us, where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I ache for a day where I am not more valuable because I am “black enough” to intimidate those with prejudice. I ache for a day where we can understand not only the pride, but also the divisions that race has provided our world. Beyond this, I hope for a day when all of us will be valued equally.
Ryant Taylor is a senior studying English, a coordinator for the Ohio University Student Union, LGBTQA commissioner for Student Senate, and an activist on campus. Email him at email@example.com.