To My People
So often, we measure others by our measuring stick. (Incidentally, we often measure ourselves by others' but that's neither here nor there).
What frustrates me is that, while many people of color are angered by the consistent stereotypes hurled onto us by a majority-white society, we tend to do the very same thing to ourselves.
Last week, The Echoes Blog featured a post by Mandish Kalsi: an Indian-Australian woman constantly defending her individuality as it compares to her Indian roots and Australian upbringing.
As people of color in countries dominated by white men, we have to walk a line that is acceptable to the majority i.e. muting our accents, changing our speech and vernacular, and more. Sometimes, to those whose race and/or culture we share, walking that line appears to be a betrayal. The problem is, sometimes there are bits of that line that are simply who we are. And constantly having to defend our race/culture from being placed in stereotypical roles while being attacked by the same race/culture, is tiring.
The following poem is a piece I published in my book of poetry, Mosaic: Pieces in Poetry. Although some of the brand names may be a bit dated, the feeling is still something I unfortunately always wear.
October 2, 2004
I’m not good enough for you?
I’m not black enough for you?
Ethnic enough for you?
Because I don’t use words like “ain’t”
And I speak correct English
I don’t snap my fingers and smack my lips
Roll my neck and then my hips
Because my voice doesn’t precede me
You question my ethnicity?
My skin color’s not dark enough for you
My clothes aren’t always Baby Phat and FUBU
Because I don’t listen to the same music you do
Then I must not be as black as you
Because I enjoy going different places
And congregate with people who have different faces
I make education my personal duty
And I don’t look like I came straight from a hip hop video or movie
Because I make it my quest
To be the best
Because I’m confident and have pride
Then I must be acting white
Like we didn’t come from the same heritage
As if I don’t know my history
You think racial slurs and white supremacy
Don’t offend me?
You spend a great deal of time
Blaming oppression for your neglecting to try
Looking down at me
As if you’re more aware of our ancestry
But I’ve risen above
What we were expected to become
I’ve ascended past the ignorance of many
And the stupidity of some
So you say I’m not urban enough
Or black enough for you?
Well allow me to set the record straight
And tell you the truth
I can’t be defined
You can’t explain me
I exceed my gender
And surpass my nationality
I am the person racism’s ignorance is afraid of
And the person you’re scared to be
You thought I sold out
But truth be told, you’ve become what we were thought to be
Simple minded and class deficient
Ill mannered and dim witted
Lazy and illiterate
Incompetent and insignificant
Irrelevant and impertinent
You resent me
For the intelligence you see
I read too much
I think too hard
I’m not quick to play the race card
I don’t give up
I don’t give in
I try even harder
When I think prejudice will win
I don’t just complain when I’ve been wronged
I stand up for what I think is right
When someone takes what should be mine
I don’t give in without a fight
So what makes you blacker than me?
Is it my hopes, my aspirations, my dreams?
What exactly makes me “white?”
Is it because I don’t fit in the stereotype?
Our people fought for us to be free
To have our own goals and make our own destiny
To own our opinions and have our own thoughts
Now what would they say
If they saw you in that box
For years they took away our pride
And our integrity
Belittled our intelligence
And subjected us to conformity
Determined to keep us simple
And deny our strengths and abilities
Aware of the power in our unity
And here you test
The concept we were denied
The chance to uplift each other
And sing a song of united black pride
You’ve become the enemy
You’re like the tool they used during slavery
Expected to put others down
To get recognition
Unaware of integrity’s attrition
But I’m not mad
Because I know what it’s like
So afraid to fail
So you refuse to try
You see, the truth is
What makes me black
Is my ability to stand on my ancestors' backs
To allow their injustice to be my drive
And the results of their struggle
To mold my life
To mimic their perseverance
To get to the place in life
Where I need to be
Don’t fault me for my individuality
My fearlessness and multifaceted personality
My pride and my intellect were gifts given me
Through my forefathers and foremothers need to be free
So you can say I’m uppity
Because of where I grew up
But I definitely don’t need you, or anyone, to tell me
I’m black enough
Mosaic: Pieces in Poetry available for purchase here or available in iBooks here.