Labels & Tribal Loyalty

There is always a big debate about whether labels and inclusion result in positives or negatives.

To me, my personal opinion on these have changed over the years due to different experiences and changes on my world view perspective.

When it comes to racial labels, there are several factors on the pro and con sides.

I would like to focus on the defense of pride in the “Black” racial label. One may argue that there is a great desire to hold onto the term Black due to acknowledging the unique qualities and accomplishments as a descendent of a people who thrived through great obstacles.

There are also people who want that label to express a distinct difference in struggle among people who are more melanated and people of an ancestry that has been kept at the bottom of a racial caste system for centuries.

If an individual for whom this “Black” label means these important things to them encounters a “But we’re all humans” individual then then may become offended and confused as to why they are “self hating or ashamed” to claim the label “Black.”

Personally I never felt that Black or African American were accurate terms to describe myself. I use them to describe myself and accept those labels but they do not hold a deep resonation in my soul as an identity in who I am.

When I was younger, probably up until age ten being “Black” was about as significant as saying I had the trait that makes my ear lobes go away from my head and aren’t connected. Being told by my parents that the color of my skin would affect my life greatly sounded just as insane as telling me that people with connected ear lobes would greatly affect the lives of those with non-connected lobes.

I am older now and Black has a lot more meaning for me now, and I am proud of it, but perhaps not in the same way that others are. For some others I have found their “Blackness” is something that they are so proud of that they want it to be seen and heard and felt within everything they do, are, say and breathe.

I don’t want that kind of an eclipse over all that I am beyond, below, within and all around who I am as an individual.

Truthfully my first and most important identity above all else would be identifying as an artist.

Several identities come second to that, some too personal to share and others I willing to share such as my sexuality: bisexual or to be more specific: demisexual biromantic, my gender, female, and my faith: Christian, to be more specific a mix of Catholic and Methodist upbringing primarily.

My Blackness isn’t my first and foremost identity, nor is it the identity that I have felt has affected my life in the most impactful ways.

Truthfully I feel that my sexuality, although mostly internally, has affected my life in the biggest of ways, including my gender for which, as a Black Woman, is seen first before my race most times.

Being Black has rarely if ever stopped some Black men from treating me with sexism and misogyny. In that regard it is my gender that had mattered more in those cases, and my Blackness did not shield me from that.

Another more personal “condition” as I will say has affected how I am able to function daily and it’s more so an invisible issue and highly misunderstood and stigmatized. I take medication on occasion to take the edge off, but I would say that one has been my second most impactful identity, underneath artist.

Somewhere around identity 5, is probably the fact that I am bilingual which is an identity that developed in my teenage years. I do not have a lifetime of growing up in a household with another language spoken, nor do I know the anxieties and insecurities of struggling to learn English or two languages at once while trying to lose an ostracized accent.

But what I would like to say is that I just wish that people would not create this social pressure to shove identity down people’s throats because everyone doesn’t have the same experiences and some overlapping, interwoven identities create complex struggles that are not monolithic to one label.

I am an artist, with a personal condition that makes it hard to function some days, that is same & opposite gender loving, a woman, a person of faith, and Spanish speaking and understanding.

That’s quite a bit of complexity. On top of that, I have another identity that I have chosen that has become a full on lifestyle. I am a nerdy cosplayer. Attending comic and anime related conventions is something I do as often as I can afford to. I spend time and money to get outfits and purchase stories and memorabilia from my childhood. It really is the pretty much the same thing as being a sports fan, but people rarely see the parallel to the different fandoms.

When it comes to my heritage well, like most people I am made up of many things, and in truth, most Black people who claim to be 100% Black are unaware that they have a high chance of having unknown mixed heritage.

If in truth I am a salad, why would I want to only say that I am a tomato?

If in truth I have mixed heritage, why would I want to only acknowledge one piece of that?

Is it because it is the most important piece?

Is it because my ancestors had no control over the mass rape of their people and that mixing product ought to be denied?

I understand why people would want to deny colonizer’s blood in the veins. Who would want to claim that?

At the same time though, denying that it is there, is an out right lie. It’s an ugly truth, but it is truth nonetheless.

Me, being of Creole descent, and having a maternal family with French names and Louisiana culture, that is something that means a lot to me.

I have encountered a few individuals for whom due to the caste system of Creoles being placed in higher status than Blacks are disgusted that I would ever say that I am proud of my Creole heritage.

Some may hear, “Oh so you are proud that your ancestors were made to be financial mistresses to French men?”

“Oh so you’re proud that you’re skin is light and that you get to trample over the backs of your darker skinned brothers and sisters to have a step up closer into White society?”

“Oh so you want to deny full Blackness, and it’s so important to you that include the pieces of Whiteness that somehow make you better?”

Oh how presumptuous of someone to say such things.

These words were not said to me verbatim, but I do remember the reactions I have received when telling people of my Creole heritage, or showing them paintings of fair-skinned family members in my home and them questioning my Blackness, as if it’s watered down and more so a gray tawny.

I may not be biracial, but I have certainly felt the great isolation of feeling unwelcomed in both Black and White worlds. I have Black and White friends, but my background is so uniquely different from people I know that I feel very disconnected from both sides.

And due to that in my teenage hood I decided to explore outside of both those worlds and see if I would be welcomed elsewhere, and I was. I made may wonderful relationships and friendships with Latinos and Asians. I really loved meeting international students most of all who could share non-American perspectives and experiences.

This isn’t to say that this is some overarching generalization. I have great Black and White friends, but in general, both worlds and the expectations for both have been quite hard for me to meet.

I just really don’t fit in either one. It doesn’t mean that I’m no longer Black identifying, but what it means is, I am very disheartened that people who are Black have such a narrow view and a narrow doorway of welcoming of what Black ought to be, and all that it can be.

Black is all the colors mixed together. Black absorbs all light. Black is everything. Why do we limit Blackness to a few boxes?

It’s not healthy, and it hurts our brothers and sisters.

It hurts me quite a bit, but I just try to swallow those pains.

There are so many dual things that people say Black people cannot simultaneously be:

Black and nerdy, because nerdy is a “White” thing and we have to have Black swag, fleek, cool and be lit 24/7

Black and bilingual, because “Black” people speak English, rather Ebonics only, and anything outside of that is White, or that “Mexican shit”

Black and religious, because why would any of us worship a White God, or a Black one because we ought to be worshipping the gods of our ancestors or believe in creating our own destinies and worship our own “god-hood.”

Black and bisexual, because homosexuality is a invention of the “White man” to break up the Black family.

Black but the fact that I’m a woman means I’m less than human to some Black men or just a sexual conquest or an angry ghetto stereotype or a fetishized redbone vixen.

And so, due to these dual identities which seem to be in conflict with one another to other people who are my so called sisters and brothers, how can there ever be a “family” when we don’t even accept our own diversity?

We’re not a monolith, we never were and never will be, and honestly, it’s pretty messed up that we have been thrown into these tribal dictations, associations, relations and creations that have been forced.

I don’t believe in tribal loyalty just because. There are people who count on that ready to stab you in the back. C’mon. Overseers were Black for crying out loud.

Drug dealers who drug up their Black brothers and sisters are from the same “tribe” poisoning their own people.

I’m loyal to people who love me. I’m loyal to people who care and show it with their actions and no matter what “tribe” they are coming from, I want them in my corner, and so, for the people who side eye me, or look cross eyed when I’ve got a rainbow sea of compadres, well, I base my friendships and relationships on the factors of love, not color alone.

And is it still true that people can love people to the ends of the Earth and remain quite ignorant of the struggles of hue-mans? Yes they can. But when choosing to befriend a Black friend who is really not riding for me vs. a non-Black friend who is, I’ll chose the rider.

And is it a hard choice? Of course it is. Too often do I have to choose between people who understand my hue-manity but aren’t the best of friends, vs. people who are “friends” but understand nothing about my hue-manity.