Jamilah's Advanced Essay #2: Why Black?

Introduction: In my second advanced essay I chose to focus my paper off of racial literacy. A question given to us to brainstorm ideas was “What does it mean to be an “authentic” member of a cultural group?”. It instantly reminded me of an interview that I saw on the talk show The Real with guest Rachel Dolezal. She’s a woman who was biologically born white, but has chosen for the last 10 years or so to identify as black. I was surprised about the route that my paper ended up taking since I was hesitant to write about race since it is such a controversial topic, but I’m overall pretty happy with it. Also, I mentioned a scene of memory that’s a touchy subject for me, but I feel like it was a suitable scene for my paper. I definitely like this essay more than my last one and I hope that I can continue to grow in my essays to come.

Why Black?


   In life there are many things that you can change, and many that you are given at birth. You aren’t allowed to choose your parents. You aren’t allowed to choose your living conditions growing up. And you most definitely don't have the option of choosing your own race. There isn’t a form at conception for you to fill out and choose the lifestyle you’d like waiting for you after your 9 months in the womb. It doesn't work that way. Yet others seem to feel differently.

  Rachel Dolezal. Some of us may have remembered her from her distinctive interviews or the memes that were made about her, or even the hashtags that were made about her and surfaced just about every social media outlet. She personally believes that she should be allowed to self-identify as black when many others believe that she shouldn’t be able to do so. She has done a few interviews and her statements are quite controversial. Rachel sees herself as a black woman; but what makes a black woman a black woman? Does it just mean that you are from a black background and happen to be a woman? Or can it be more than that? Whatever Rachel’s definition of being a black woman is, she fits the criteria for.

   In a recent interview with the daytime talk show The Real, Rachel was asked “What does being black mean to you? Why do you want to be black?” She responded by saying  “Sometimes how we feel is more powerful than how we’re born. Blackness can be philosophical, cultural, or biological… I do think you have to walk the walk if that’s who you are.“ Although her response expressed her feelings further, the question was never answered.  Why did she choose to not answer the question? When someone avoids a question, it’s safe to say that they’re typically hiding something. But why hide something as big as race? Something that made you want to identify as another race because saw yourself as that race since you were very young.

  Many people in the audience, as well as myself, were not too fond of her answer. Blackness can not be philosophical. When researching definitions of the word philosophical, the example given was related to a people having philosophical discussions about free wifi. You can not relate a person's race to something as simple as discussions about free wifi! Philosophical thoughts and ideologies typically imply that one relates to a topic or situation. Being black is not a topic or situation that needs to be related with. Blackness is a being black! Being born into a race that has advantages, but twice as many disadvantages. Growing up and watching the television to hear about the injustices of your race. Listening to the stories from friends, family members, and even strangers about the type of profiling they receive based off of the complexion of their skin. Not being a child coloring with a brown crayon instead of the peach colored one as Rachel previously spoke about.  

  My question to Rachel Dolezal would be “Why do you want to be black?” With all of the things that black have to deal with as minorities, why is there such a desire to be apart of it? At this point of my life I couldn’t be happier to be a young black female, but it has not always been that way. At a very young age I was first introduced to the side effects of being black. My first insight of it was about 11 years ago when I was around 5 or 6 years old. It was my fourth day of first grade and I just started attending a new school. My classroom was all the way at the end of the hall in room 210. It was towards the end of the day and we always got a chance to go and read on the on the big blue carpet by the window. As our teacher dismissed our tables from the the most quiet to the least, we’d all rush over to make sure that we’d get to sit on the big couch that was sitting against the large windows. My table was the most on this particular day and I rushed over to grab my favorite book off of the shelf, No David. After completing our reading time, my teacher always came over to sing us our class Peanut Butter & Jelly song. “PEANUTTTTT! Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Jelly. PEANUTTTTT! Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Jelly. First you get the butter and spread it, and spread it. Then you get the jelly and spread it, and spread it. PEANUTTTTT! Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Jelly. ” After we finished singing, we drifted back to our tables. Before we sat down I heard one of my classmates talking about her upcoming birthday party. With me being the new girl in the school, I wanted to make friends. As she continued to talk about her party, she began to ask who wanted to come. With me being an anxious 5 year old ready to make friends, I was devastated by the words that wound shortly come out of her mouth. Her exact words were, “You can’t come to my party! My mom doesn’t like black people.” At 5 my biggest worry in class was keeping my table quiet so I could sit comfortably on the big couch outlooking the school yard; not the best way to respond to my first racial remark. My questions still stand to Rachel. Why do you want to be black? What about our lifestyle makes you strive to be apart of it? Do you aspire injustice?

  The recording from the talk show quickly spread throughout the media including YouTube. Among the 145,993 views and 1,220 comments, one reviewer made a statement that many could either argue or agree with. The commenter stated “they never addressed the fact that her ability to want to identify as another other races race is a privilege that is only allotted for white people. it will never be possible for a fully black person to want to identify as white and get treated as so. check your privilege!” This then brings up the idea of white supremacy. As a young black female, I never get the opportunity to say I’d like to self identify as a white female because whiteness can be defined as philosophical, cultural, or biological. Unfortunately, we live in a world where equality is supposedly wanted so badly, but supremacy against minorities never goes away. We aren’t granted the idea of being accepted as another race; the exception would not be given from our original race nor our desired race.

   Being black isn’t a topic of relatability. Being black isn’t an extracurricular activity that you can join. And being black isn’t a choice! It is something you’re born with and you have no choice but to live through it.