Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Bougie Folks are Forced to Do – Defend our Blackness

Hat tip: I found the link to this blog at The Black Snob

From the blog, Black 'n Bougie:

Sunday, July 12, 2009
WBFFD (What Bougie Folks are Forced to Do) – Defend our Blackness

Subtitled Adventures in BougieLand…

Okay, this is going to be lengthy but bear with me here. Being a person of color in America is an inexplicably complex state of being. Being Black or African-American adds another layer of complexity. I'm not complaining, just stating facts. Blackness, unlike political affiliation, class association or sexual preference cannot be lost or found, does not fade or waiver. If you are born black, you die black and there's nothing to debate. Old time black folks have a saying, "There are only two things I have to do in this life, that's stay black and die." (Other variations include staying black and paying taxes but that's a whole different post). I'll also take a moment to acknowledge the multi-racials who often aren't given a chance to declare their race one way or the other. The way this country works, once you are perceived as any part of black, you are lumped in here with the rest of us (sorry, Tiger).

In addition to the association of blackness vs. whiteness or any other race, an African-American also realizes that there are perceived levels of "blackness" within our own community. Bougie blacks have an even tougher path to walk. We face bias both inside and outside of the race. We have to be "non-black" enough for White America (well spoken, non-threatening, calm, educated) yet still "down" enough to hang with our own (talk the talk and walk the walk). How many jokes about Bryant Gumbel's "lack of blackness" have you heard? What makes him more or less black than anyone else? Does he really need to rock a FUBU shirt, hold a rib in one hand and drop quotes from the Jay-Z Songbook?

Here are just a few things I've noticed that seem to weigh in on the scales of blackness…

Speech – Chris Rock tells a joke in his HBO special, "Bring the Pain" about how the main stream media emphasized how Colin Powell "speaks so well." A large portion of my life has been spent trying not to wince when white people tell me, "You are SO well spoken." Think holding back the wince is hard? Try holding back the scowl when your own people ask you, "Why do you talk so white?" Argh! What is talking white? Using proper English and embracing all the syllables? What is talking black? Talking fast and lyrically with a lot of slang thrown in? If you can put English and Spanish together and get Spanglish, how about I put the Queen's English and Ebonics together to form Quebonics?

Assimilation – I went to a private school through 9th grade. My older sister and I were 2 of the 5 black girls in all of k-12. Suffice it to say, everyone knew who we were. At least once a month, some shocked parent would say, "You are not like any other black person I've ever met!" Yes, I know – I speak so well. On the flip side, when attending my youth group meeting at the predominantly black church I attended, I overheard a disgusted parent say, "She's not like us, she goes to that private school." People, I was 12 and just trying to find my place. If I was too black for the white folks and too white for the black folks, where did that leave me? So I learned to adapt and compartmentalize. I listened to two sets of music, read two types of books, and talked two different ways. At one point I had separate sets of friends (that never overlapped) and attended completely different kinds of events. Yes, it was exhausting seeing the Kinks one night and Kool and the Gang the next.

Money – While it's recognized and perfectly okay for rappers, entertainers and ballers of color to have bank; bougie blacks get the side eye when they've acquired some outward signs of upscale living. When I was in California, I met a gentleman and agreed to meet him out for a date. I arrived at the restaurant at the designated time and pulled into valet parking (I'm bougie and I had on 4" heels, okay). BrotherMan was standing outside and watched me climb out of my car. It's a German-Engineered luxury four-door sedan. I came around the car and said hello. His entire demeanor was salty at best. "What's wrong?" I asked. He said, "Oh, that's how you rollin', all material and whatnot? Okay – I think we're done here. I keeps it real." Me and the valet were like – huh? Bouge rule #10 – Don't hate, congratulate!

On the opposite scale, two days later I stood outside a mall waiting for my car when an older white gentleman handed me his stub and a five-dollar bill saying, "It's the blue Volvo." Was I dressed like a valet? No. Did I not have a shopping bag in one hand and an Italian leather purse in the other? Just as I contemplated letting my inner Shaniqua loose, his wife rushed over and took the ticket and money from me, "Honey, she doesn't work here." Damn skippy. When my car pulled up and I slid in, he stood there with the red face, mouth open. (sigh) So either I'm too black to own this car or I'm not keeping it real because I drive it? In the Cartoon Network series The Boondocks (check it out if you haven't seen it), Riley Freeman says, "People always hate when you shinin'."

Location – Black people, don't hate me for living in the suburbs. I grew up here. Where is here? Nowhere near the hood. I know not from hood. Am I less black because I don't have an "up from the ghetto" tale to share? No one is knocking Dr. Dre for leaving Compton so why must I encounter hate for not wanting to move there? Conversely, white people – stop asking me about ghetto things or how to get there. I am not a ghetto GPS. If you want to find the hood in any major city, start by locating MLK Ave, Malcolm X Blvd and/or Cesar Chavez Fwy. (Okay, I know that's wrong but stop me if I'm lying!)

Clothing – I grew up preppy. Bass loafers, khaki pants, oxford shirt, grosgrain ribbon for a belt with a deep commitment to Keds and Topsiders. As time have marched forward, so have I… to a point. Baggy is still not in my vocabulary. Trendy is held to a minimum. I still tend to skew closer to "classic" than "fly". My work wardrobe staples include the navy "interview" pantsuit, the red "power" skirt suit and a rotation of khaki staples that I flavor up with bright tops, great accessories and shoes that grown women envy greatly. I still believe that things should "match" but discreetly.

I don't do raggedy. There are no clothes with holes or faded spots anywhere in my closet. When I was moving from one apartment to another in San Francisco, my girlfriend said, "Even your moving clothes are bougie." I had on a denim shirt, navy leggings and denim Keds. I thought I looked like a bum. I was told that bums don't match their shoes to their shirts on moving day. And then we have my colleagues at work (read Caucasian) always proclaiming, "You are always so well put together, I couldn't pull that off." Is that a compliment? Me throwing a scarf over a basic jersey two piece outfit is flashy and therefore inherently black?

Music/Film/TV – Thankfully, times have changed considerably and the TV and the Internet have allowed for merging and melting of tastes and cultures. But in my younger years I had to balance my love of Singin' in the Rain with my love of Uptown Saturday Night. I actually pretended to my white friends that I watched the Brady Bunch when seriously; even we weren't bougie enough to watch that stuff. No my black friends, I did not see every episode of Good Times, I did not see the one where James died (damn, damn, damn!). Yes my white friends, I had the soundtrack of Shaft right next to the soundtrack of Grease. I'm sorry black friends, I loved me some Bee-Gees. Sorry white friends, I know you didn't know anything about the Brothers Johnson. Yes, we all loved the Cosby Show. I had a college professor argue me down that the Huxtables were a fictional pipe dream not applicable to the "real Black Experience which was rooted in the ghetto." I explained to her that my father was a doctor, my mother an accountant and the Cosby Show was the closest representation of my life I'd ever witnessed in TV or film. I theorized that I knew just as much about the hood as the white girl sitting next to me knew about the trailer park – nothing! I said her inability to process that said more about her lack of teaching skills than my apparent non-existence.

Rest of this thoughtful and honest article at link above.

1 comment:

The Angry Independent said...

I no longer pay attention to these labels. It's one of the things that I hate about being Black.

I refuse to follow the "Blackness" script that Black Culture likes to ascribe. In many ways I have rejected modern Black Culture. What it stands for and the message that it puts out are not necessarily in-line with what I believe in. Although I can operate in both Worlds, I don't adhere to any Blackness standard. I can only be me.

I embraced my inner Bryant Gumbel about 20 years ago and never looked back.

Speaking of labels...I also reject the "Bougie" label. Calling yourself that means you've internalized the criticism about what you are (usually from Blacks) and have accepted someone else's labeling.

Blacks who choose to dumb themselves down to meet the Black Culture test are just as bad as the Black folks who criticize other Blacks for not being "Black enough".

The Black Culture standard is destructive in a lot of ways.... has been for years. I'll never understand why folks choose to follow it just to fit in. There is not enough peer pressure in the World that could make me follow someone else over a cliff.

Blacks are part of the only ethnic group in the Country that is made to feel ashamed of embracing education or speaking proper English. It's extremely annoying to me.

Not that Whites haven't caused me grief as well... It's just that in my experience I have gotten more flack from Blacks.