Sorry, You Are Just Not Black Enough

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African Americans are suffering from an identity crisis.

 

It dawned on me recently how much I hate the lure of ancestry.com’s new DNA test. The ad seems so appealing, take this test.  You can trace your history and find out about your past. I have almost bought it several times, but one thing stops me, the question of; do I really want to know? How far back can it trace my past? Back to what day the slave ships came over? Could it find out what country my people were captured from and which slave owners secretly intermingled with my ancestors?

I am not trying to drudge up an ugly past but understand that blacks have lost that connection to who they are. And that loss of identity still haunts us. We know what we don’t want to be. If you want to set a black person off, accuse them of being or even acting “white.” Let me give you an inside look at my life on that front.

“Sorry, you’re not black enough.” I can remember the first time I heard that accusation. I was a bit taken back by the statement. What did that even mean? So being a person who likes to observe behavior and dissect things. I tried to figure out the basis for their claims. So I asked for clarification. “You talk white!” Now I was confused. So my response back was “please elaborate.” “See there you go again. Black folks don’t talk like that. Using that fancy white man’s English.” My response was, “So let me get this straight. Because I use the Kings English I am not black enough?” “You got it.” This snapshot in time would take me down an unusual path in life. I could be made fun of, criticized or I could learn to speak Ebonics.

From that moment forward I would have to face this same claim time and time again. You are not black enough. In African American circles, I didn’t have black credibility. People questioned if I am down with the struggle. You don’t act like one of us. You are not hard. You listen to rock and roll and classical music. You married a white woman. “You sold out” was the common theme.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to prove to my people that I was one of them. You see I am black in the eyes of everyone else. I get stopped by the police when I venture into the wrong neighborhood at night. I raise suspicion in a department store. I make white people nervous in a dark alley. My education, my marriage, my musical choices don’t exempt me from having all the fears every other black person is struggling to overcome. We live in turbulent times. But for some reason, I am not dark enough to have the respect of my peers. I had to earn that. Somehow I had to prove that. And the reason for that was because black people have never discovered our identity.

What is that thing that defines us? We can’t collectively go back and say we are Irish, or English, or Italian. We don’t have a motherland to ground us and give us a foundation, a sense of belonging. Our past goes back to slavery. And every African-American I know refuses to accept that as our beginning. So we are stuck. Searching for meaning. Searching for an identity. You may notice that this post goes back to the terms black and African American. Because I identify with both. It is a struggle trying to find our bearings. Our music, our culture is all about the struggle to find an identity. Rap, R & B, gospel if you take the time to listen to them often expresses the pain of the fight…the search to find that thing that is unique to our culture. Until black people know what it means to be black in America, we will remain lost. We will continue to be trapped. We are a people without an identity and often a people without a voice.

When accomplishment is not who we are, then what are we? If your ability to read, write and express yourself, is contrary to society’s expectations, then you are self-imposing a ceiling. How far can you go as a people if achievement is discouraged? Please understand, it ‘s hard, but blacks have to break out of their lowly existence. It is not that blacks don’t want more for their families, but this achievement is the converse to our ingrained thinking. This achievement issue is a factor in why our neighborhoods are so downtrodden and crime ridden. People feel trapped, and cornered, people have no hope. A lack of hope kills. Not knowing who you are – that lack of an identity – is killing my people literally.

Our only hope to change is not to look for our identity in a DNA test but to find our identity in Christ.  The apostle Paul gives us a new sense of belonging.  He says in 2 Corinthians 5:

“So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

For black people, the way we were brought to this country doesn’t define us.  The pain of the past no longer has to haunt us.  We have a new reality, a new beginning; that is not grounded or defined by human standards. Jesus Christ has given us our identity, and our citizenship is in heaven.

Other posts in this series can be found on the blog under the category of Caught Between Two Worlds:
https://revheadpin.org/2016/08/02/its-time-church-to-stand-and-speak-out
https://revheadpin.org/2016/07/19/fearfully-made
https://revheadpin.org/2016/07/26/its-time-to-heal-the-racial-divide
https://revheadpin.org/2016/07/12/how-guilt-feeds-racial-divison/
https://revheadpin.org/2016/06/07/diversity-in-the-church/
https://revheadpin.org/2016/06/21/how-to-see-beyond-color/

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47 thoughts on “Sorry, You Are Just Not Black Enough

  1. While very well suited for your series, I think we can ALL relate to what you are saying, “our identity is founded in Christ” – which is currently being shared by Olympians! “The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace, it gave me ease, and let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn’t go great, I could still find joy because I’m at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor, one of the best people to be around. So God’s given us a cool opportunity and I’m glad I could’ve come away with a Silver in my first ever event.”

    Ann Ciaccio
    Communications & Advancement
    LCMS Northern Illinois District
    2301 S. Wolf Road
    Hillside, IL 60162
    708-223-3114
    [NSNB_logo_RGB_PNG_CC200]

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  2. Hi Keith. This tremendously insightful and powerful. You lead beautifully to your conclusion, which is a proclamation of hope and encouragement. May God direct this post to many who need to read its. Extremely well done.

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  3. Praise our Creator, our Redeemer that we are new creations in Him. We don’t belong to the world anymore than Messiah belonged to it when He walked the earth. We are not of the world any more than He is. And that includes America/the United States.
    To those “of the world” we don’t belong no matter what color our skin is or where ancestors once lived. Persecution of Christians is coming upon America big time. And those in leadership roles in the Church have the responsibility of helping the flock prepare for these ugly prospects.

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  4. A profound statement here my friend. An amazing Truth told at the end. I am wondering, however, with the knowledge that black people can only trace their heritage as far back as slavery can not this be the beginning point of tracing forward to the Truth you display so aptly in your post. Because there is only slavery, does that keep the Black from not having a past? Help me understand this because it seems, today, the Black wants all things erased, form pictures to statues, that bring this memory to the front of their minds. But still this is their past and still they will not accept it. Could accepting from where you come, help with the healing process and reconciliation. Your post are so much about reconciliation, but to what, or to whom. I guess this old fat boy is confused. Please help out? Love ya brother!

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    1. Hi Andy that is the tension. We want a past but not beginning with slavery. We have forgotten we came from kings. But none of that matters our reconciliation is to God not human kingdoms. Our true identity lives in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords the Alpha and the Omega. That is the only identity that truly matters.

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      1. Thanks Kieth! While I do have ancestral background I think nothing of it. It is, however, interesting to know where I came from. I guess if I had come from a background similar to yours I would be concerned. As it stands, my great great grandfather was a overseer at a large plantation west of NOLA. From what I read about him, I am ashamed to be from his lineage. He was a ruthless man who was horrible to the slaves he oversaw. I cannot change that, just as Black’s cannot change the awful lineage from which they came. I wish I had never found that out about mine. But I thank God for a grandfather and dad who taught me differently and introduced me to the Black man “and” White man’s God. As you said, this is where our true identity lies. Thank you for understanding my ignorance in these matters and helping me to understand better. I love having you for my brother! Blessings!

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  5. I’m glad that you’re writing this article, this topic.

    But I’m going to take the article, and particularly the sixth paragraph and discuss with my friends all along the spectrum of pigment.

    I’m missing the ‘identity’ thing. Perhaps because I’m a ‘mutt’, regarding my family’s history. Perhaps I don’t struggle with knowing, or caring, where my ‘people’ came from, and this is why I don’t understand the paragraph.

    When discussing ‘meaning’ and ‘identity’, and ‘Until black people know what it means to be black in America, we will remain lost. We will continue to be trapped.’ — I remain confused. I don’t know of any people who inherently struggle with what it means to be in America. I know people who struggle with many different aspects of life (economic, relational, emotional, physical, etc.), but not as you are describing.

    The struggle sounds more like something that has been ‘taught’, than felt or actually experienced. Reminds me of the psychologist that tells me I have issues with my father. Though they are not known to me, after hearing it enough, I begin to believe it and it becomes part of my thinking.
    But this is from my experience and interaction with those within my circles.

    I know many who struggle with what their purpose is, their role in their family/social circles/work environments, or their calling in life. But the ‘search to find that thing that is unique to our culture’ seems to resonate with a desire for separating rather than unifying. Or perhaps I’ve bought into the whole ‘melting pot’ metaphor to an extreme.

    (still a work in progress)

    Again, thanks for your article. It provides some traction/avenues to continue pursuing that which I don’t understand.

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    1. It is hard for those where that is not an issue. As I black man I feel that my past has been ripped from me. Redefined by someone outside of me. Taught in school we weren’t special. Have made no accomplishments and the only gifts I posses are athletic. I am more than that. I did have a rich history and it is not tied to America only. It goes back thousands of years.

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    2. I think it’s easy for those of us that are not black to discount the experience of being black. Because, unless we step outside of ourselves and truly listen to stories like Keith’s– stepping into THEIR experience — it can’t make sense. Because it isn’t rational, it’s experiential.

      I spent three years working as a tutor/mentor in a Title I school, where the student body was one where the racial minority was the representative majority–only 7% white. My students taught me a lot about the struggles of being black, both within and without their own communities. My heart forever changed. The pain that these kids were burdened was tangible. They felt inherently less-than, and American culture just reinforced this idea.

      I have several friends that are black, but are not American citizens. Their experience of being black in America is very different. They can bear witness to the experience of racism in this country, but, they do not share the same burden of shame stemming from this crises of African American identity that Keith writes about here.

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  6. Keith,
    This is brilliantly written. So full of authentic struggle followed with a witness to authentic hope that brings with it the only ETERNAL identity.

    I am, by all accounts, a white girl. But I wasn’t raised like many other white girls– in some upper middle-class suburbia. I grew up in what was considered the ‘bad’ part of town– an inner-city neighborhood. My neighborhood playmates were Latino, black, Hmong and Native, and we were all too young to realize that growing up meant drawing dividing lines based upon color.
    Sometimes I miss those simpler days of childhood. Before cultural norms and biases replaced what came natural to us all as children: love, compassion and a sense of belonging together that transcended race.

    I say I am white by all accounts. Because, honestly, I don’t know how white I actually am. My natural father was dumped off at an inner-city orphanage at birth, and eventually was adopted by the descendants of German immigrants to work on their dairy farm. He looks Native American, but that’s just conjecture… I do not have a complete picture of my own ancestry. And while I know I benefit from the unearned privilege of having light skin in America today, I can also relate to the sense of loss that comes with not having clear links to one’s own heritage.

    You are absolutely right– our eternal identity trumps any and all earthly associations and heritage.

    Thank you for your message of hope.

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    1. Thank you Ungodly woman. I am doing my best to reframe the argument. Our identity has to be tied to Christ. It is as Jesus describes it as “The one thing that is needed.” Or as Paul would say everything else is garbage compared to our relationship with our Lord and Savior. Thanks for reading.

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      1. I think of how race relations are in America at the moment, and THIS– our brother/sisterhood in Christ is what we all need to fall back upon. Like I said in my comment, that is all I knew as a naive child. It breaks my heart that there is so much turmoil over the color of our temporary bodies. Certainly, the respective struggles are real, but we have an identity that transcends it all!

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  7. Hi Keith,

    I can totally identify. I grew up in the hood but knew I wouldn’t stay there. My sister told me just because I’m from there don’t mean I have to act or speak like it.
    And I believed her.
    Then Moms said I could be whatever I put my mind to.
    And I believed her too.
    So I went to college and stayed out of trouble.
    But people back in the hood tells me I’m not black enough because I’ve never been to jail and have a college education.
    But I never believe them.
    Me and my wife recently built our home in a golf community and every now and then the devil would tell me I sold out by building in the suburbs and not the hood. And sometimes I question myself.
    Then I tell someone and they remind me that the devil is a lie!
    My point is it depends on what you believe and what you was told by your family as a child.
    Great post!
    Vernon

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  8. It would seem in today’s times, no matter what you say or do, someone will take issue with it. We all just need to get along.

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      1. Keith, I’m reading comments here this morning, and, I’m pretty disheartened by some of the responses you’ve gotten. The way I see it, you spoke your own truth, and in such a way as to make it both the truth of your experience and a call to hope in Christ. The only reason someone could take issue with your message, in my opinion, is because of a hardened-heart that is closed off to validating any experience that is not their own. That’s certainly not the response we see from Christ in the gospels… One of my favorite Gospel passages is found in John 10. Where Jesus wept. While Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and fix the cause of mourning, He still entered into the experience of the mourners, and wept Himself. That’s a powerful portrait of compassion and empathy. One that we as Christians are called into as we are molded into the image of our Savior.
        Peace to you. And please keep writing more posts like this one…

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      2. I will UGW. I don’t take the comments personally. I understand much of this is new information to people. Whenever you are pulling the bandaid off is hurts and exposes old wounds that may not be healed. I will keep writing, right now I feel compelled to.

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      3. I will keep you and your writing in prayer! The Truth that Christ compels us to bear witness to can make us the targets of resistance– and you are very wise to not take that resistance personally. I look forward to reading your future posts!

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  9. Keith, yet another profound essay. If we really look back on history African Americans were not the only slaves of America. My lineage is Irish and after doing extensive research I was made very aware that my Irish forefathers were considered a lower form of life when they immigrated to America. They were forced to take on jobs that were demeaning but it was all they were offered. They were left to starve in allies and yes they were also taken as slaves … the lesson here is we are all children of God. Your past should not precede your future. Embrace who you are and do your best on a daily basis to overcome the obstacles set before you in the name of Christ. He will see you to your next step. Thank you so much for sharing with us at #SimplifyWednesdays. I look forward to what you share next week. Pinned, Tweeted, Shared

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  10. Powerfully expressed. The young woman I think of as a daughter is African American. She has faced these same challenges. I did alot of work in Philly’s inner city, and saw firsthand the ongoing damage of slavery.

    If it’s of any interest to you, I wrote about the heritage of slavery awhile ago on A Lawyer’s Prayers. The post was called “Common Bond”. It can be found at https://alawyersprayers.com/2014/05/04/common-bond/. Sorry for the plug. You’re welcome to delete it.

    Blessings,
    A.

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  11. Keith, thank you for writing this article. There are many of us that feel helpless with all the racial tension going on. It was helpful to me that you said african-americans don’t know their identity because they don’t know their ancestors, other than the slavery part.

    It seems to me , sadly that some blacks try to hold others back, such as when you said they accuse you of not being black enough because you are educated. How can we change that? How can we get people to value education? That being educated will not take their identity away?

    Most of us “whites” are “mutts” like another poster said and we don’t know much more than two generations back where we come from either. I know it’s not the same, but we are all americans now.

    I think the main solution is found in Christ alone.

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