As I sat in a semi truck somewhere between Wisconsin and Chicago on a freezing
January night, refusing to move out of the warmth of the sleeper, I began swiping
through movies on my Showtime Anytime app. I was bored, and sick of being
surrounded by snow and freezing wind gusts. I needed a good movie to take me
away from it all. I’d ignored the movie Green Book for over a year now, not
wanting to see the cruelty and hatred displayed towards my people. But tonight,
my inner monologue said, “Let’s give it a try. If anger begins to stir up, we’ll turn
it off. Deal?” “Deal,” my reply to myself.Instantly, I developed tunnel vision.
I could kick myself, not really, for waiting so long to watch it.
My eyes and ears were fixated on this brilliant film with its magnificent actors.
I hung onto every moment and every word. Then BAM...this
brilliant soul spilled out a powerful and heart wrenching monologue, “Yes, I live
in a castle! Alone. And rich white folks let me play piano for them, because it
makes them feel cultured. But when I walk off that stage, I go right back to being
just another nigga to them—because that is their true culture. And I suffer that
slight alone, because I’m not accepted by my own people because I’m not like
them either! So, if I’m not black enough, and I’m not white enough, and I’m not
man enough, what am I?!” Pause. Rewind. Replay. Hit me with it again
Mahershala Ali! Then I reflected on how many of us, especially people of color
have undoubtedly felt this way?
Quickly, my mind shuffled through memories. And yes--there it was. Fear -- the
fear of not being accepted -- fear of being alone -- fear of not fitting in -- fear of
being called weird. Which I’ve been called before by a stupid guy because I left
him a poem, written by me, and one long stemmed yellow rose. I never did that
again! But that’s another story for another time. Searching deeper into the
crevices of my mind, my heart began to sink as one revealing conversation
ascended like a blade of grass. A conversation that answered every question I’d
ever had; every question I’d ever been asked.
Before me sat a beautiful soul that I’d admired my entire childhood. She had the
looks, intellect, proper grammar, and vocabulary that often had us scratching our
heads, saying, “Ummm. Yeah, I don’t know what that means.” However, the very
things I admired were the things others despised. How could this be?
Brilliance...Beauty...Black. How can you not love this?! Nevertheless. My cousin
was told repeatedly as a child, “You think you’re white.” You think you’re better
than us.” And I believed it because I remember at times being asked, “Why she
talk like that?”
To be honest I’d said it once or twice. But not because of the extensive vocabulary
nor the proper enunciation of words. It was because of that damn BABY TALK.
“Grrrr!” LOL. “Here she go! She’s going to get her way, AGAIN.” Yes, I was hating
because she got her way with her baby talk. But I still admired and adored her.
Could she have made better choices? Absolutely. If she’d known my admiration
for who she was and how others looked up to her, would that have changed some
of her decisions? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, I wish she’d expressed her feelings
before she’d made life changing decisions. Behind my lens was someone that
had everything. Behind hers, she felt she did not have her blackness; she wasn’t
black enough, she didn’t fit into the black box – the black brand – nor the white
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In childhood your blackness being challenged can be devastating, not so much in
your adulthood. As a child you’re on the journey of self-discovery; you’re still
trying to find your true identity. “Where do I fit in?” “Who am I?” If your
observation of your black surroundings - - our black community - - your black
family that’s questioning your blackness, is smothered in a life of criminal activity
your direction can be smoky and suffocating. Unable to see clearly, you’ll kick
into survival mode, fight or flight. Either you’ll fly into your true identity or fight
to prove you’re black enough.
How many of us have dimmed our light, failed to excel, pretended to be
something we weren’t because we were trying to fit into the puzzle that we
considered our blackness – our black box? What is being black? Who defined
blackness? And, why must our blackness be dressed in poor grammar,
government assistance, and criminalization? Why does it have to be untalented,
uneducated, and uncouth? And who the hell told us that if it didn’t look like this
it wasn’t black? And why did we fall for it? Did we fall into the Willie Lynch trap or
have Stockholm syndrome? If so, how the hell do we get out of it? Are we crabs
in the bucket, afraid of being left behind? Are we our people’s worst enemy,
wanting them to fail because you fear stepping out of your comfort zone?
Why do we allow others’ opinions of us to influence how we move through life?
My cousin hid brilliance behind the walls of the penitentiary. I hid my talents deep
within, journaling in a hidden notebook. How many are behind prison walls
because they didn’t feel black enough or questioned, “Who am I?”How many gifts
are hidden in the pages of a notebook, afraid of being different or being judged?
Why do we hide our gifts?
We hide because of the grotesque word – FEAR – that loves to splash its ugliness
around. Fear of not being accepted; fear of being called weird; fear of being
criticized; fear of not being black enough; fear of not being good enough; fear of
being judged; fear of being alone. Plain ol’ FEAR.
I’d heard my share of negative comments, from my skin being too dark to being
weird. Their opinions of me caused me great difficulty in honing my gifts, until I
accepted and embraced my differences...until I learned to love the fact that I was
eccentric. Where would I be if I’d never allowed those opinions to invade my
Everyone wants to put you in a box. “You get a black box!” “You get a white box!”
Schreckkkk! “Ummm, what box does this one belongs in?” Some of us proudly
hover in between. It can be a lonely road when you don’t ride with likeminded
and supportive individuals.
Our history in America is painful and seemingly disgraceful. We must remember
that OUR creativity and power-built America. We must remember that we come
from people that had everything stolen from them: their country, family, name,
tradition, language, religion, and dignity. And, at the same time, stole OUR truth.
Some of us were sold and purchased, with the rest of humanity, that we are
inferior people... everything negative...and that we all belong a box. Our
ancestors broke free of that box. It’s our responsibility to stay out of it. It’s vital
that we reprogram and instill in our youth that it’s OK to hover in between the
box, that black isn’t confined to a box. That growing up in the projects or growing
up poor does not isolate you to the box nor is it a gateway to jail or prison.
OUR black represents EXECELLENCE, OUR black is embedded in EVERYTHING!
Our BLACK blood is deeply saturated in America’s soil. Our BLACK is deeply
rooted in American history. And like roots we grow in many directions
penetrating through the walls of the box. We NEVER belonged in a box of any kind.
So, STOP buying into the lie and start nurturing OUR gifts; OUR gifted. If they have
creative bones, nurture their creativity, don’t criticize it. If they’re brainy and
enunciate their words, nurture that, don’t criticize it. Be the shoulders they stand
on to get out of the box not the lid closing them in. FEAR will surely rear its ugly
head but tell them to walk through that fear. Help them celebrate and accept
their differences, even if you don’t understand it. JUST DO IT! These are OUR
future leaders, innovators, business owners, educators, lawyers, doctors, and
artists. The rest of the world will try to destroy them and force them into the box.
It’s our responsibility to arm them with confidence and the knowledge to break
free. Keep educating ourselves on OUR history not the history they want us to
believe. There’s success in hovering in between the box. It is not easy, but OUR
history has shown, without question, that it’s ABSOLUTELY DOABLE!
Written by Tonika Yvonne Wheeler