I Don’t Look Black, but I’m 100% Black Excellence. Any Questions?
You can question my Blackness, but I know where I come from
I wear a “Black excellence” wristband most days, and if I got a dollar every time someone asked me one grating question, I wouldn’t need to work two jobs right now: “But are you Black?”
It’s frustrating mainly because there’s no one way to look or be Black. Honestly, even if I were as White as cucumber and mayo sandwiches on Wonder Bread — with no seasoning in sight — am I not allowed to support Black excellence? Why is it so confusing that someone you don’t “read as Black” would want to wear their support for Black people openly?
I’m a Brown mutt. My dad’s a European mixture (predominantly Hungarian), and my mom’s Puerto Rican to the bone. I also have some Black ancestry. Exactly how much is unclear, but like many Puerto Ricans, we know that at least some of our background is Black. I never know how to fill out documents that make me choose one race, I’ve been called just about every slur by racists, and I constantly wonder how I fit in with Black and Latinx communities.
I’ve been aware of being mixed and Brown as far back as I can remember, but it wasn’t until my first year in college when I lived in a Black diaspora-themed dorm — Ujamaa — that I really began to explore my Black ancestry.
You’re free to claim your Black ancestry and know that Blackness isn’t defined by rigid boundaries, a specific amount of melanin, or what features you have.
It would be a disservice to my ancestors to not acknowledge my full identity. My Taino ancestors took in escaped slaves in the mountains of Puerto Rico and combined our cultures. The story of my Black and Taino ancestors is one of resilience and cultural evolution, a history I want to represent in full.
However, honoring Blackness while not being read as Black can be tricky. I honor my Black ancestors responsibly so that I don’t accidentally co-opt struggles that aren’t mine. We see this happen all too often when light-skinned people claim colorism works against them but do so by not acknowledging how colorism is a threat…