Each day is a treasure to be home in my office when my sons come home from school. The first to burst through the door is my 14 year. There are days when he bursts through the door and there are days when he barely pours across the threshold. There are days when he will spend five minutes telling all about his day, his interactions with friends, and these strange creatures called girls. Then there are days when all I get is a deep(his voice has changed and that’s a whole different topic all together) groan which in the teenage world translates in to “Hi, Dad.”
Over the last week it seems all I’ve been getting is groans and caveman grunts and when I ask what’s wrong, I get, “hggh, ghdhg” which means “nothing.” Over the past 6 months I have become very fluent in teenage gibberish.
After awhile the caveman-speak gets REALLY annoying and I am tempted to demand he tell me what’s bothering him. Instead, I know he will tell me when he’s ready. I know the bro-code. Men will talk when they are ready.
My wife does not, however, have a subscription to the bro-code, nor does she have the official rule book. Her approach is to question/interrogate him until he cracks like spring ice under a 350 pound man.
His issues are typical teenage issues but one issue is something I can really relate with. He is having a hard time with a group of blacks in his school. This group doesn’t think he’s “black enough.”
He goes to a diverse school and his friends are really of every race and background including several black kids. My son is light skinned like me. We often joke and say we are the “high yellow brothers.” I have learned growing up in the black community there is a struggle with racism in our own race. There is s split between those who are BLACK and those who are “not black enough.” There is also a split between light skinned and dark skinned blacks and the prejudices involved between them. (that is the topic of another blog)
I was an offender of this in-race racism in college. I questioned those blacks around me that were better able to assimilate to their white environment. I too wrote them off as not ‘black enough.” I have also been on the other end of the spectrum and have also been accused of not being black enough because I talk “white” and don’t dress a certain way.
This used to bother me just as it does my son. To be charged by your peers as being “too white” is painful and the fact that my son is genetically just as black as those leveling the charges makes it sting even more. It is painful because it screams, “You are not one of us.”
My fear was always that if I wasn’t accepted by blacks, and I wasn’t white than I would fall in the gap between the two never really fitting in with either. My bigger fear was that neither would want me as part of their group. Then what would I do?
I remember in college for a creative writing class I wrote a story called, Whited Out, it was a story about a black teenager who moved from the city where he was surrounded by people who looked like him to a rural all-
white town. I described his first day of school in this all white environment where he was not accepted by anyone and he didn’t know how to handle it. At the end of the day he went home, went in to the garage, closed the garage door and turned on the car. His solution to not fitting in was to kill himself. When his parents found his lifeless body in the car, death had changed his skin color, he was now more gray than black or white. On his lifeless face he wore a partial smile.
I know is was a like hokey but that story told a lot about how I was feeling in college and it vividly brought to life my fears; fears that I never put to rest until I was in my 30’s.
One day while wrestling with where I fit in, it occurred to me. I was most comfortable around middle class blacks. It may sound horribly classist to say it but while with this group I feel the most at ease. Here I have the culture I love so much and I don’t get the questions about being black enough. As I get older I find more of my peer group gravitates to this group and finally that’s alright.
The great news is I figured it out. Being a part of the “black and strong” crowd didn’t make or break my survival. Finding where I fit in did and once I understood that, what the “black and strong” crowd said or thought no longer mattered. The better news is I can share this with my son and provide him with a detour that will eliminate 15 to 20 years of searching.