Back in February, I received a text from my twin brother at Notre Dame that read: “Did you see what Ben Carson said about Obama?” Carson, a former Republican candidate in the 2016 election, suggested that if elected president he might be the first African-American person to hold the position. He said the president was “raised white,” comparing Obama’s middle class upbringing to his rough one as a poor black in Detroit.
These statements struck a chord with my brother and me. As middle class African Americans who grew up in the suburbs, we too were often criticized for being “white”. Growing up, we were often the only two blacks in the grade and were therefore forced to represent the entire black community. Because of that, we had to be very conscious of the way we acted. Whenever someone had a question about blacks, they came to us. Whenever the teacher talked about slavery in history, everyone’s head turned to stare. Whenever anyone said the “n” word in a rap song, everyone awkwardly got quiet if they realized we were standing nearby.
So why, when we were obviously perceived as black among whites, were we white among blacks? There’s such a negative connotation about blacks in the middle class among the black community. Calling someone white is meant to be an insult, as if to shame a young African American for not being one of the 45.8 percent living in poverty. Somehow, because of having a different experience, we’re stripped of our black cards for something out of our control. Many African Americans are quick to condemn the media for representing all blacks as hoodrats, yet that’s what the meaning of “black” has become. The Cosby show was praised for representing a black middle class family in America, yet that same family would be criticized today.
Carson should not be able to praise Obama for breaking the race barrier in one sentence and criticize him for being white in the next. Obama has never pretended to be from the ghetto, nor has he tried hiding his upbringing. That being said, being middle class doesn’t hinder one’s ability to help those in poverty. Because I grew up in a suburb of Syracuse, I was able to see all the resources and opportunities I had over children in the Syracuse City School District, and that gives me a whole different perspective on why that district is failing. I would have a different idea of what’s missing there then someone who has lived in Syracuse their whole life. In the same way, Obama can and has sympathized with and helped those in poverty. Carson’s idea that Obama hasn’t seen “real racism” is ridiculous. As the first black president, Obama has been forced to deal with all kinds of racism, threats, and opposition.
Because President Obama and I had a similar upbringing, I know that Carson is far from being the only person with the opinion that middle class blacks are “white”. What people don’t realize is how damaging it is to a young black person’s identity to be called white by their own race. Being too black to be white and too white to be black deprives them of a sense of belonging. This type of separation shouldn’t be encouraged within our race.
It’s unfair that some people are born into better situations than others, and that some people have so much and others have so little. But why is this frustration taken out on our own race? African Americans have the highest poverty rate in America, 27.4 percent. Most cities are heavily populated by blacks, having high crime rates and low graduation rates. How as a country can we expect to change that if even the black community is putting out a message that we belong in the ghetto?
All blacks are fighting many of the same battles. No matter where I grew up, I’ll always be seen as black. I’ll always have to work harder for the same jobs. I’ll always have to deal with racism. I’ll be marked with stereotypes that will follow me for the rest of my life. Blacks have to deal with adversity in the middle class as well as in poverty.
As African Americans, we’ve come from slaves who died for our freedom, leaders who marched to desegregate schools, men and women who fought and paved the way for us so that we can have any job we dream of. The reason for upper and middle class blacks in America is because our ancestors struggled for us to have that opportunity. Coming from these ancestors of such strength and resilience is what being black truly means.
10 thoughts on “Not “Black” Enough”
I’ve dealt with that too. When I moved to the south (a small town in Alabama) from California, the other kids at school asked me why I “talked White.” I guess I had to develop an accent and act like them to be accepted. I admit thinking that they were ghetto, coming from a military background where we accepted everyone’s differences and knew that we came from literally everywhere, to that. My new school had less than 10 white students. The other white kids in town went to a different school down the street. I later realized those white students at my school couldn’t afford the private school down the street. It was a shock then, and we haven’t come far.
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Thank you so much for your comment! I really wanted to tell this story because I knew other people experience the same thing. It can be a really sensitive subject. We definitely have to be more accepting of each other and we need to realize that not all black people come from the same background, and we shouldn’t be expected to.
I am proud to say that I know you. It ia a wonderful article.
Thank you so much! That’s so sweet 🙂
Shauna you are amazing!!!
Aw thank you ❤ I’m glad you liked it!
I agree with most of what you said, but Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty, as well as teen suicide. Outside of Haiti, the group as a whole has the highest rates of poverty.
I grew up in a suburb of Syracuse as well; my dad was too dark to sit anywhere other than the back of the bus. We were teased and told that we would be the ones to die when we played cowboys and Indians. Until 1976 it was legal to take Indian children from their families.
Can we end institutional racism? We all need to join across racial/ethnic boundaries. That means Native Americans, Latino/Latina, African American.
Reblogged this on LaForce.
I enjoyed this article, and can relate. I was called white, not because what i had materialistically, but because i chose to wellin school. I have maintained identity through all though. I will always represent, and fight for the struggle of backs still though.
So I wonder..Do you ever separate yourself in the midst of others or even in your own mind, from blacks “in poverty..” ?
Because if you do, that enforces the separation.
You may be seen as or treated the same to a degree in this world..& You want that to be understood.. But i see.. FAR TOO OFTEN… Upper class blacks that stand on the heads of those that are in poverty.. making statements, voting for racist candidates, condemning welfare, etc.
So which is it? Fitting in means fitting in. The ancestors you speak of, that fought for the rights most upper class blacks have enjoyed, in most cases came from nothing themselves.
I just wish the talented tenth cared enough to help others, creating change for other blacks to enjoy in the future as well.
Thank you for stating so elegantly, what I was trying to say.