"Why? Do you think I'm an 'Oreo,' then?"
"Well, you're not ratchet."
Now, I don't know if this was supposed to be a compliment (a "compliment" ... psshh), but I remember how conflicted I felt when I got this response. To give you some background, I have been called an "Oreo" for a very long time. An "Oreo" is someone who is thought to be black on the outside but white on the inside. So inside, my chocolate-covered body is a little white girl just aching to get out (poor her swimming in all the crap I eat). Despite disliking the term, I fluctuated between trying to embrace it and fight against it. So when the latest Oreo comment surfaced, I just had to question it. The response, however, made me think deeply about blackness and the black experience.
According to this particular black guy, being black was being "ratchet." It was being loud, using slang, and screaming because Drake was playing out of someone's car. The funny thing is that he had no idea that I am that "ratchet" girl just as much as I am the girl who talks about politics and listens to soul music -- and I am allowed to be. I have, however, come across several people both in real life and online who seem to feel that this is not possible.
I feel that social media presents an almost caricatural image of black people. Blackness is only about using slang, wearing nice trainers, having a good weave, braids, or natural hair, and listening to and talking about R&B, hip-hop, and grime. There is nothing more to it. Do all that, and you are the blackest black that ever blacked the earth. Although some people naturally match this image, which is fine, there is less acceptance of -- and, to an extent, representation of -- people who don’t match that image entirely.
My friend said that it seems the label "Oreo" is "an expression of a dislike of whiteness," which I thought was very interesting. When you call someone an "Oreo," you are telling them that they "act white," meaning they are "betraying their blackness by assuming the social expectations of a white society." But then what is whiteness and what is blackness? Whiteness, as has been suggested, is how "well" you speak, how smart you are, how much you like rock and indie music. I will not be ignorant and say all races are exactly the same, because they aren't. There are experiences that are very specific to your race -- however, categorizing someone as less black, or untrue to their ethnicity, because of the way they speak or the music they listen to seems pretty bizarre to me.
There has not been a truer statement on this issue than "Being black is not what I am trying to be, it's what I am" (YAASSSS CARLTON BANKS). Black is a race. Not a personality type, set of interests, level of intellect, curviness of body, or taste in music. Black is a RACE. We should not use names to bleach people of their color because their behavior, interests, and beliefs don't match our personal definition of what it means to be black. To be black or [insert your ethnicity here] is to be a queen or a king regardless of your interests or appearance. If you are black and like Kendrick Lamar, good for you. If you are black and like Ed Sheeran, good for you. If you like both of them or neither, super-good for you, too. You define what it means to be black -- no one else does.
When I realized this, I saw my truth. I didn't have to prove anything or justify myself to anyone. I like afropunk music just as much as I like R&B, afrobeats, and pop. I like talking about hair and politics (even the politics of black hair). I like fangirling about wonderful black women (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Oprah -- I'm talking to you) and men (Marc Lamont Hill, J. Cole, Boris Kodjoe), but I also love fangirling over wonderful white, Latino, and Asian women and men.
Although my focus is on the black experience, people of several races experience pressure to conform to stereotypes. My Asian friends tell me they get called an "Oreo" or treated differently when they appear less conversant with Asian culture than their families or they don't fit archetypes of what it means to be Asian. One of my friends even went on to say, "I don't really know what defines me as Asian and what defines me as white," presenting how confusing this label is.
Whether you're black, Asian, or Latino, there is immense pressure to defy stereotypes so that people don't see you as merely "that Indian girl studying medicine," "the Chinese guy who likes math," or "the black guy who plays basketball." Alongside this, there is the pressure of being told that you are not true to your culture when you don’t match up exactly to the stereotypes. It is a complex contradiction.
I think that the beauty of being black -- any ethnicity, in fact -- is watered down when we reduce it to limited criteria. When we say that being black is all about being loud, using slang, caring about hip-hop and R&B, wearing nice trainers, and twerking, or being Asian is about getting A's and not making yourself stand out too much, we are missing the point.
In reality, being black is about being all of those things and more -- or being none of those things at all. You define yourself. Like Carlton said, "Black is not what I am trying to be, it's what I am." So let me introduce myself. I am Itunu. I am not an Oreo (or even just the biscuit). I am a young woman. I am a writer. I am a sister, daughter, and friend. I am a lover of chocolate and life. I am black, and my black is enough.
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