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Higher Learning. A publication from Medium for the interested man.

Blackness

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Covid-19 made me go to war with my former idol

A photo of the author, Marcus Dowling, next to an archival photo of Elvis Presley
A photo of the author, Marcus Dowling, next to an archival photo of Elvis Presley
Photo illustration, sources: Marcus Dowling; Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

Let’s face it: Every Black person has at least one White icon they idolize.

Elvis Aron Presley doesn’t mean shit to most of my Black friends, but he does to me. Instead of falling in love with White rock and “blue-eyed soul” icons like so many of them did, I was excited by the reckless behavior of country music’s White male stars. Elvis’ sound and style perfectly blended equal parts Marlboro Man, Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy persona, pop-rock idol, and soul superstar.

When I was a child, my mother told me Elvis was “much less of a redneck asshole than…


My Blackness put me in a position to been seen as inhuman — and my Americanness forced me to accept it

A Black man running his hand through his hair.
A Black man running his hand through his hair.
Photo: Eric Raptosh Photography/Getty Images

I last got my hair cut in March 2018, one and a half years before I first began my four-month stay in Vietnam. My hair is coarse and nappy. It’s untamed and sprawls out everywhere, but I like it that way because it lets me accept my Blackness in its natural state.

Every time I ventured out in the Southeast Asian country, my hair gave me an unwarranted celebrity status. I was in Vietnam on a scholarship to study abroad. Although unconventional compared to the traditional European study abroad experience, I knew it was where I wanted to study because…


It’s not my job to make White people feel less guilty about racism

Photo: Samad Malik Photography

Last week I wrote about my experience running while Black, in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia man murdered by two White men while out on a run. My story detailed what amounted to a drive-by stop and frisk: NYPD officers suspecting that I might be bothering White women on a group run in the park when in reality, I was coaching my runners’ group.

My account is just one of many. Harassment from law enforcement and overzealous White people continues. …


You can question my Blackness, but I know where I come from

Photo: courtesy of the author

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 stopped using the word in my twenties — but long before then, I realized its power

A close-up portrait photo of an older, mature man with tears in his eyes, covering his mouth.
A close-up portrait photo of an older, mature man with tears in his eyes, covering his mouth.
Photo: David Waldorf/Photodisc/Getty Images

To call the word “nigga” complex is an understatement. Even calling “complex” an understatement is an understatement.

Black people have a thorny, painful, multifaceted relationship with the word. To assume its usage is cut and dried — even among us — is absurd. Some consider it a way to defang a once-derogatory word. Others see its continued use as a form of self-hate and abuse. Some are fine with people using “nigga” as a universal term, while others are absolutely not fine with any group other than Blacks using it.

But the question of whether we should still use the…


Mannerisms and speech mean nothing. ‘Reacting white’ is the issue.

Photo: iStockphoto/Getty Images/Standard License/Milkos

When I was a kid, I couldn’t outrun the accusations that I “acted white.” My denials didn’t deter my relatives and classmates, and neither did anything I said about rubber and glue. Meanwhile, my parents tried to tell me everything about me was okay and not to worry about what anyone said.

But my school-aged peers and some of my relatives had harsher words for me. Uncle Tom. Oreo. Carlton Banks. Thankfully, Black-ish and Uncle Ruckus weren’t around back then; otherwise, I’m sure they would’ve been on the list of ways to pick on the Sam that I am. …

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