The Blur of Code

I am black. Afro-American. Kinky curls, thick lips, complexion kissed by the oozing inside of Twix black. Or am I? What is black? How is the term defined in the world’s cultural melting pot, where there is no unique identifier for the Jamaican-Asian or the German-South African? In the land of milk and corporate greed, where oppression was the foundation for prosperity, where does black exist?

Soledad O’brien, a multi-ethnic journalist and special correspondent, who self-identifies as black, will attempt to answer this idiosyncratic question in the fifth installment of CNN’s “Black in America” series.

But before the first segment airs tonight at 8/7c, O’brien has been bombarded on social media networks for attempting to tell our stories, since on first glance, her blackness is a question mark rather than a definitive answer.

The seasoned journalist was prepped for the firestorm and answered with wit, elegance and unadulterated intelligence.

If it were August 5, 2010, I would have agreed with the commenters questioning O’brien’s privilege, particularly as it relates to the intersectionality of the issues associated with blackness. How can those cloaked in light-skinned almost-white privilege empathize with the pangs of whole blackness?

I identify as a critical race enthusiast and hip-hop womanist scholar, so in interrogating Soledad’s motive, I would have been in a position to honor the foremothers and fathers of critical race and gender, who fought to have blackness recognized in conjunction with gender. Who fought for the credibility of intersectionality in feminist thought. Who battled for the recognition of their theories as relevant to the American conversation. I would be in service to the millions whose blackness is an answer, rather than the question.

But on August 6, 2010, life shifted. And I was hit with the two of the one-two punch on December 29, 2011. MMB and MVB, my two nieces, with their curly blonde tresses, half-Russian heritage, pudge noses and pupils dazzling with innocence have completely warped my perception of blackness.

Racism awaits them on the other side of our love and nurturing. Their blackness is enough.

Despite their mother’s native Russian heritage, my nieces are black. In shaping their cultural understanding of their ancestry, it has been essential for me to acknowledge both aspects of their existence. Ducka Ducka and Double M call my parents Mema and Papa and hug me with their whole beings. In their minds, nothing separates us. That resides within me.

Their futures are full of potential.

I see them engaging critical race theories and debating blackness as it is rather than how it is distorted in the media.

I see them accompanying me to black writer conferences and flanking my arms at the NAACP Image Awards.

I see them lecturing on W.E.B. DuBois and quoting Malcolm X.

I see them appreciating Harlem’s history and organizing rallies to push back against gentrification.

I see my little twinkies falling in love with Zora Neale Hurston.

Submitting their applications to historical black colleges, where they will learn the true meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation in environments full of black scholars equally as brilliant as they are.

I see them in Dr. Rachel Griffin, a half-white critical race and black feminist scholar at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

I see them in Melissa Harris-Perry, a half-white political scientist who tackles race in southern politics.

I see them in Soledad O’brien.

I see them in Mariah Carey.

I see them in every colored girl who has straddled the fence, who has asserted agency in identity-stricken realities.

I see them as black.

And when I have my little chocolate munchkins, who will look differently than Ducka and Double, but will share their DNA strands, I will remind them of the fullness of blackness and the importance of heritage and the honor in recognizing ancestors that fought and died for them to live in age of Barack Obama.

I know when these kids grow into the adults God has destined them to be, the question will arise. “What are you?” I hope their answer is succinct. “I’m black.”

Because black is more than complexion. It’s a state of being. Their blackness is enough.

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