My high school friends knew me. The 'me' that I let them know and that Regina worked hard, I mean HARD at fitting in. I was one of a few black students in a predominantly white, suburban community, neighborhood, middle and high school. I was a mediocre student, mainly because I spent the majority of my time trying to normalize my oddity. I played along with the majority and attempted to blend in. I didn't rock the boat when we read "To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, I tried out for and made the cheerleading squad because it didn't require a ton of rhythm and I didn't run screaming from the building every time someone told me they 'didn't think of me as being black'.
My parents seemed worn out by going through something similar in their workplaces. They had fairly important jobs and were good at them but talked very little with me about the experience of moving from Atlanta to a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin while we were going through it. In my opinion, we put our blackness in a corner.
We had taken for granted the culture that we had enveloped ourselves in while living in Decatur amongst family and friends until we made the move. My dad chose to take a job working for a major power company here in Wisconsin and somehow he convinced my mother to make the move. Maybe I should say that I was the one who took Atlanta for granted. The food, the church, the friends, the family, the noise, the music - it was so normal. Moving to Wisconsin, changed things.
Our blackness did not change, but so much of our environment did that it shifted me and my perception of my blackness and of course, me. Now, I think it was good for me to be uprooted and to have an opportunity to better understand and claim my blackness, but looking back, I must admit that I did not and that move has had ongoing ramifications in my perception of myself ever since.
Earlier tonight, I was at the book reading & signing of Erin Celello. She is the author of "Miracle Beach" and now, "Learning to Stay". I will tell you to get both books, I have two copies of each of them but more importantly it is how she read her words and then how she answered the audience's questions that made me sit up in my seat and beam for her. In the moment, it was far more about how really in her element she seemed, how crafted for that moment she seems to have been. No nervousness or apologies, she was appropriately and dynamically an author allowing us to sneak into her work and her mind. By the way, there were three of "us" there and two of them were college students doing some sort of assignment. As soon as it was over, they left - darned missed opportunity.
It made me think about my being black. When I land on what I am doing and those moments for myself how much of it will have to do with my being black. Will it hold me back? The stereotypes that I fill and those that I don't, will they hinder me from being bold enough to speak out and say what it is that I think. Will my being black propel me into opportunities? How will I share without putting people out and ruining good relations? Do black people really go to book signings if it isn't about black issues? Did I break a black rule? You know, I never make it to the meetings, so I'd be the last to know...
I am a black woman, but what does that mean, really? Most days when I wake up and I look in the mirror, it is not a descriptor that I use as I'm brushing on my makeup and tweezing out those pesky hairs. I know that I am black and that it means more than just the color of my skin. Most days I think I do not want to dwell on it and do not look for slights but other times I read articles and tilt my head and wonder if the author knows anything about being a part of a marginalized group. I read texts and history and consider the horrors of other groups and their pain and then realize that I don't empathize enough because I don't fully understand the history of black Americans. Slavery, Civil Rights, even sports - I don't think I've really given deep thought to the path that has been laid by those who've stepped into those first challenges.
Then I realize that I'm the one. I've put my blackness in a corner. I have neglected to really understand it, ask questions, revel in it and celebrate it. Certainly it can never overcast the brightness of my decision to make Jesus Lord of my heart and soul, but I can venture to ask and share and change. I do have a bit of fear that in an effort to better understand myself and "my" history I may become too outspoken for some and alienate myself from others. I think that's why I haven't shared this blog with every single "friend" on Facebook yet.
I am retrieving it. My blackness. Just in writing about it, I know I will better acknowledge it and allow it to take its proper place and be a part of how I share about myself. Let me be clear, I know that I am more than my skin color and my culture. This is all about defining it, defining my quirks and idiosyncrasies and connecting them as much to my being black as much as they relate.
Right now, I guess the frame of my blackness can be defined as my skin color, which I really like. I think I have beautiful skin. I've been told by my husband, my son when he was a lot younger and at a very, very recent facial. It may be defined by how I am able to speak and go back and forth between speaking professionally and "talking black". That I know that even though we were extremely poor when I was a young child, I never lived in the 'ghetto' - not in the Jewish sense of the word. It is some of the foods that I eat but sometimes I think I lose some of my street cred because I've never made a successful batch of collard greens and my white husband makes better grits than I do. The music I enjoy is more mainstream and white - who doesn't love them some Celine Dion - than black; I have to consciously seek out black artists to listen to or seek recommendations. I am smart enough to know that my blackness can not only be regulated to these things and even others, but that my blackness will find its place and stand alone when I am comfortable acknowledging it in all situations. Dancing with it, embracing it, laughing at it, questioning it and owning it.
Tonight when I listened to the authors, I listened for black inlets - the one author spoke about the injustices of those black veterans who returned but were not valued although they served alongside their white counterparts in the same way - but I also listened as a woman, as a war widow, as a friend supporting her author friend, as a cheerleader for success, as a person inspired to continue looking for outlets for my strengths - but my blackness was only a fraction of the lenses that I used to hear and see what was put before me.
It will not be put in a corner, my blackness, but it will not also be the belle of the ball.