Another Quick Reflection on Being “Black” – Not Black Enough

by Guest Contributor Juliana, originally published at Juliana Goes International

Latoya’s Note: Juliana and I have been friends since freshman year of high school, so we’ve been kicking it for about a decade now. A few years ago, she decided to decamp from the United States and spent a lot of time abroad, including a year and a half in France. When she graduated from college, she decided to enlist in the Peace Corps and was stationed in Mali. As her term with the Peace Corps is almost over, I noticed a reluctance to return to the US. I had my ideas why, but I never thought it was something like this.

It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this one. This idea has been going through my head for a while but it’s hard to get it out.

Sometimes I think to myself, would you come back to Africa to live? Would you try to find a job here? Have a family here? Settle here? Not necessarily in Mali but in West Africa, in general.

Growing up with a Jamaican family in America was tough because my parents didn’t have the mentality of other African Americans that I knew. My parents weren’t a part of the American civil rights movement, as a lot of other older black Americans, so they’re way of raising me and my sisters was different.

Most of the other black kids in my school where “ghetto.” Baggy clothes and listening to rap and hip hop. They had they’re specific way of acting that was completely forbidden for me to emulate at home.

I remember riding with my father in the car and passing groups of black kids on the street, and him saying “Look at those bums, they’re never going to get anywhere. They’ll probably end up in jail.” I would try desperately to explain that they’re way of acting or dressing says nothing about who they were. I knew many kids in my school who dressed that way and were good students. He could never believe it; always thinking that the more black you acted the less successful you’d be.

This is how I grew up. I had these thoughts drilled into my head from day one. In order to be successful, I had to act as white as possible. I was discouraged from speaking bad English. I was also forbidden to dress too provocatively. I didn’t start wearing tank tops until I was about 22.

And then came the problems with other African Americans. They hated me. “Why’s she act so white? Why does she talk like that?” I never had any black friends growing up. No, that’s a lie. I have 2 black friends. 1 is as white as I am and doesn’t have any other black friends except me and the other is a very accepting person who has friends of all colors and races.

I accepted that I didn’t have any African American friends and it never bothered me until about the year before I came into Peace Corps. I met an African American girl, through my 2nd black friend who couldn’t understand me at all. I wasn’t black enough for her. What bothered me the most about her was that she was so light skinned she could pass for white. How could this girl possibly hate me and be mad at me for not being black enough for her when she practically looked white. I had to tell our mutual friend that if she wanted to go out, I wouldn’t go if this other friend was coming too.

Then when I joined the PC I had a few other problems. I don’t want to go into too much detail but there were other African American Peace Corps volunteers who completely wrote me off as a potential friend because I acted too white. I’d try to explain myself and my back ground, but to no avail. I simply wasn’t black enough to be their friend.

It still hurts to think about some of this. And the more I do, the more I think to myself I don’t want to live in America. I don’t want to be constantly judged as being too white. Being here in Africa allows me to be myself. I never worry about how people are going to perceive me or if they’ll hate me for who I am. I simply be here.

Even more importantly, I’d like to raise my children here. One of my biggest fears about raising kids in American is that they’re grow up surrounded by African American culture and become people who would hate other people like me. I want my kids to grow up in an international environment where they are surrounded by many different types of people. I want them to accept everyone for who they are and not hate simply for the way someone else acts, talks, dresses, looks, etc.

So my answer to all those questions is, yes. I would live here. Find a job here, raise my kids here. I would love to send them to an international school where they would have friends from all over the world. I’d love to raise them in a French speaking country so that they would grow up speaking at least French and English.

Directly after PC I think I’ll go back to the states for a year or two to get a job and enjoy American comforts for a little. After that, I think I’ll try to find a job in Dakar, Accra, or who knows where.

Africa is in my heart.

I can be myself here.