Before moving to New York City, I never had to declare my background or clarify myself when I told someone I was black. When I moved the questions started. Suddenly people wanted to know where I was from and answering with Missouri wasn’t sufficient. I fielded questions about what country or island I was from and I didn’t understand. I would continue to say I’m from “here” meaning the US and then add the phrase “regular black” for emphasis until the person asking understood that I was from America and my family has been here for generations.
Then you go to events and are further reminded when the roll call starts that “here” wasn’t the desired response. “Let me hear my Caribbean people make some noise! My Boricuas where you at? Okay now my Nigerians!” My black self from Missouri never gets a shout out (sometimes I’ll claim the borough I live in for a little fun).
Moving to New York, the melting pot, and meeting so many people from various cultures and countries leads some to look inward. I’ve had friends receive the same questions and inquires and grapple with how to respond. There can sometimes be a feeling of loss as a black person in America. For many of us we haven’t traced our family lineage very far back, let alone to an exact country or tribe. I’ve had to remind myself and others that though we haven’t been “free” long in this country we have transformed not only America, but the world. It is black culture that permeates the world and dictates what is cool. We created new genres of music and continue to push culture forward. Through our resilience we have created a culture that is a gumbo of our ancestors, spiritual and religious ideologies, and regional influences. Black culture exists, is thriving and is one to be proud of alongside all the other cultures of the world.
I've recently begun actively tracing my family lineage and all I feel is pride. Pride that my family has managed to maintain its integrity and place in a country that constantly pushes against them. Pride that I’m black, and that just being black is fine.