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: