When people see me, they think I am black although I’m actually brown but brown enough to be considered black. That’s ok with me as Steve Biko said, “Black is beautiful”.
When people hear my voice and my accent and read some of my writing, they think I am white although there was a time when I was very young that I had a Nigerian accent despite being born and raised in the suburbs of New York. I can speak in and understand slang, ebonics, and pidgin with a good measure of credibility but that isn’t my natural speech pattern. I understand my parents when they speak to me in Ibo yet I respond in English.
When people see my name they think I am either African or Japanese.
Most people are not actually interested in the fact that I am from the Empire State of New York but rather want to know that my parents are from Nigeria.
When I say I grew up in New York, most people think I am talking about New York City and when I say I’m from upstate very few are thinking about the greater Rochester area.
I get offended when people especially other black people (usually immigrants) speak negatively about blackAmericans (meaning more or less indigenous, descendants of slaves, etc.)
I also get offended when blackAmericans speak negatively about immigrants black or otherwise, and criticize those that value education as “acting white”.
I grew up in the suburbs, a college town, it was mostly white with a healthy sprinkling of immigrants, and very few blacks. Kids from “the city” were bussed into my school district in middle school and high school.
I moved in many different groups, I could hang with the black kids, I could hang with the white liberals, I could hang with the white wannabe black kids, I could hang with the goths, I could hang with the preppie athlete-type, I could hang with the orchestra kids, I could hang with the newbies, immigrants or just kids no one liked, although I could never quite stand the religious kids nor the black or Asian kids that thought they were honorary whites (I mean have some self-respect). I’m introverted so I could feel the pain of the loner kids but it’s not much fun hanging out with a bunch of people that are too shy to talk.
At lunch, I usually sat with the black kids at the black tables or with the white liberals, later on I mainly hung with my crew which was mostly intellectually humanist and hedonist and connoisseurs of all things counterculture.
I once worked with people mainly from Baltimore and even though most of us were black and got along quite well there was an ummistakeable gap in our culture and experiences not least of which was because I’m Muslim.
Everytime I get judged at first sight by the color of my skin, when someone uses racial slurs, we get followed around by security, stopped by the police, and so on I’m black although occasionally it’s black and Muslim. I’m black and I don’t feel any need to prove my blackness to anyone.
My parents are immigrants, my mother became a naturalized American citizen, my father has declined to do so, and I don’t feel any need to prove my Ibo-ness or American-ness to anyone. I’m from upstate New York, which some people do not consider to be the real New York but for me the mountains, lakes, canals, farmlands, Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, the Lilac Festival, snow six months out of the year, and colleges everywhere is my homestate.
I like my voice and I like my writing (not all of it but at least some of it) and if it makes me sound like a stereotypical white liberal or the privileged child of highly educated, hard working, and upwardly mobile immigrants so be it.