Confession: I Grew Up Thinking Nearly Everyone was Black

14 03 2014
Even this guy? Yep, he was just Creole (ie Black). Photo: www.preventblindness.net

Even this guy? Yep, he was just Creole (ie Black).
Photo: http://www.preventblindness.net

Growing up, my family was your typical family from Louisiana (and probably other places as well), so basically the color spectrum didn’t have a thing on us. There were people in my family with blonde hair and blue eyes, olive-toned skin with jet black hair, red brown hair and green eyes, dark brown skin and brown hair, white hair with caramel, mocha, chocolate, and whatever other flavors you want to use as a substitute for shades of color. We had them all. And everyone very much identified as Black.

So to a kid who considered herself an observer, that meant that if Aunt Marie was Black (who looked like a Golden Girl) and Uncle Curt was also Black (who looked like a smaller Michael Jordan)… well heck, then who wasn’t Black? As far as I was considered, very few people. Blackness included everyone!

It didn’t help matters when my little cousin walked up to my grandfather one day, and with all sincerity asked him, “Hey Pawpaw, are Mr. Paul and Ms. Catherine a part of our family?” Mr. Paul and Ms. Catherine were dear friends of my grandparents, and so they were regular fixtures in their home. You could see how a little kid might be confused when everyone else there was a part of our family. My grandfather responded, laughing at the little boy, “No, Jason, Paul and Catherine are white.”

My cousin looked at my grandfather, cocked his head to the side, and said, “But aren’t you white too, Pawpaw?” “No, boy, I’m Black,” my grandfather replied. “Oh ok,” said Jason, as he walked away still confused.

I wasn’t confused at all though. To me, it made everything perfectly clear. My theory had been proven correct. Mr. Paul and Ms. Catherine were the odd people out — because everyone else we knew must have been Black.

Looking back now, I can see just how naive I was to think this, but in my little head — I just knew I was right. So whenever I saw anyone that maybe didn’t fit the stereotype of what it looked like to be Black, I just automatically equated them with being Creole.¹ Such was the case with Santa Claus. Now, you have to understand that I grew up listening to a song entitled, “Santa Claus is a Black Man,” but any time I went to the mall, my Santa looked like the one above. The only possible rationale for a 6 year old who thought she was smarter than everyone else? Duh — he must have been Creole. And therefore, still Black.

On and on, I went about thinking this about most of the people I met (I won’t tell you just how long, that’s for another day) unless I heard them identify as something else. And in fact, even now I still instinctively assume most people are Black. I know it’s not true, logically, but I can’t help it. For example, my friends and I were watching a repeat of the BET Awards one Thanksgiving, and on the show, they were doing a tribute to Charlie Wilson. One friend asked the room, “wait, is Charlie Wilson’s wife white?” “No,” I immediately countered. “She’s obviously Black.”

“Darby, contrary to what you may believe, everyone isn’t Black,” another friend said. And it made me laugh, because it was true. I was so quick to say this woman was Black without knowing anything about her. I’d still made the same judgment call that 7 year old me made anytime she walked down the street. And while mine was fairly innocent, I’m sure that we all do this in some form or fashion in other ways as well. Without even knowing it, we make calls throughout life about people, places, and things that stemmed from early on beliefs we had as a kid.

Care to share any of your crazy theories from your younger years on this Friday? I’d love to hear some!

1 I realize now how crazy it was that I attributed Creole Black people to always having non-brown colored skin, but again, this was my thinking as a kid. I know better now.

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4 responses

19 03 2014
29tolife

God, I wish I could have grown up believing that!!! What a freedom in being exposed to so many different types of black people that it wouldn’t make sense that they weren’t anything else!!! That’s the most awesome perspective ever! It’s not limiting. I grew up in an area where the lines were clearly drawn and even black folks defined the lines so hard, that being light-skinned I was often asked if I was mixed with anything. That I was breaking some rule for clearly classifying myself as black and not wanting people to mistake me for anything else. I hate what being black means to people of every ilk on Long Island, because most of the time, it’s automatically negative. Brown Santa would have changed my life as a kid. LOL. I love hearing about other people’s perspectives on race depending on where they grew up. It’s so cool.

20 03 2014
dbaham

Wow, well you just gave me a different perspective as well! I absolutely thought of my outlook as limiting, because as I’ve grown up and met more people, I felt like I was diminishing other parts of them from jump. So maybe you’re Black, but you’re a Black Latina. Well in my eyes, you were just Black and could speak Spanish. Okay — that wasn’t any different than the Black folks in my family who spoke French lolol

So thank you for helping me look at in different eyes. It’s amazing how conversations (especially about perspectives) can enlighten both people. Also, I’m saddened to hear you that you had to almost prove your Blackness growing up. My older relatives had a similar experience, and I think that’s why they so staunchly identified themselves as Black (which then led to my understanding as a kid lol). It breaks my heart when we do those things to each other.

Also, check out Santa Claus is a Black Man (the song) if you ever get a chance. It will change your life! LOL

21 03 2014
29tolife

The album cover alone gives me life! The little girl’s voice is adorable!! Thank you, this gave me a good chuckle. I wish the masses of black folks could capture the pride of the 70s. I wish!!

21 03 2014
dbaham

YAAAAAAAY!!! It’s not Christmas for me until I hear that song at least once. And that pride from the 70s was amazing right? AMAZING!

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