My Lifelong Struggle With Feeling “Black” Enough

I have always felt comfortable with my skin color—my blackness, and comfortable in my identity. Comfortable as an African American. Comfortable as a black American. But I have never felt an overwhelming sense of belonging to my community. That seems really silly when I read it back to myself because I certainly don’t feel akin to any other racial group. But for much of my life, just comfortable is all I’ve been.

Pride? Joy? Happiness? Of course I have those feelings about myself and about being black. I love it. I love my people. I love me. And despite this country’s insistent genocide against us, we winnin’. But truly feeling like I belong, I’ve never had a strong sense of that. To be frank I’m not even sure I know what it  means to belong in this sense. I am inherently part of many communities that I don’t necessarily feel I belong to, so maybe the issue is just that I have an outsider complex, I don’t know. But in terms of my identity as black, I KNOW I belong on account of my ancestry, my skin color, the culture I grew up in, and society’s gaze of the black individual that I most certainly feel and am aware of. But I don’t know how “black” I feel when it comes to the perception and opinions of other black people. Thinking about this, at 26,  I’m reminded about how I’ve always had feelings of being on the outside looking in when it comes to my people and my culture. And to think those thoughts, I feel guilt. Because to worry if I am “black” enough, or if I fit in with black culture, minimizes it and dismisses a large portion of the black experience.

Many times as a child I was called “white washed”. I was asked why I talked a certain way—white or why I dressed a certain way.

The truth is, there is no one way to be black or to act black. What does that mean to act black because blackness is everything. But despite knowing this as a fact I can’t help to feel (still as an adult) that in some ways I am not doing my people justice. I don’t feel woke enough, and I’m constantly reminded of my childhood and adolescent school days of never having a seat at the “in” table among the black crowd.

Many times as a child I was called “white washed”. I was asked why I talked a certain way—white or why I dressed a certain way. Of course I didn’t have a response. I talk the way I talk; it’s the only way I know how. But those questions have always made me feel different. They made me aware that to other black people I stood out. As an adolescent I was very self-conscious about my blackness. I simply didn’t feel black enough or “down” enough. I never made friends with the cool black kids at school. I never joined BSU or any black clubs. I played basketball, but at a high school in Santa Monica, Ca where most of my teammates were white or nonblack. In college, I made black friends, but again, not any I would call the “cool” black people, and a part of me always wanted to be in that crowd.

My black friends and I didn’t join fraternities or sororities, or even any pro black or black uplifting clubs on campus. We were just—black. Most of us with similar experiences of having felt left out when it came to our people and our culture. Maybe our favorite music wasn’t rap and RnB. We listened to too much pop and rock and alternative or punk music. Our vocal inflections and speech patterns didn’t sound “black”. We hung out with a lot of nonblack people and had more of a diverse group of friends and close associates. And to this day, I’ve never been a part of a predominantly black group of friends. And I’ve often been the token black person in different scenarios, especially in classrooms.

I have moved on from the place of insecurity that I held onto in my youth about my identity. I’m aware that the labels and the name calling that teenagers threw around are hollow. I am proud of who I am and of my blackness. But I still can’t escape the feeling of being inadequate as a black person, and particularly as a black voice. I feel like as a writer, I have an obligation to be a black voice, yet, I fear my experience isn’t good enough or authentic enough to be that black voice.

I am black and I am a writer. I write poetry in which I attempt to work through emotions I can’t process without writing them down. I write about sports because I’m a passionate jock, and as I age I’m pushing myself creatively to write stories for film and television. The dilemma I face is what do I write as a black person. There are so many stories that should be told. Should I interweave the crisis of our genocide in my material? Should I ignore politics and create the black version of Friends?  Or how about the next Insecure or Dear White People. The point is, I want to write something culturally relevant. I want to write something that champions the black experience and something that gives black actors and actresses the opportunity to have positive leading roles that are authentic portrayals of our colorful and diverse lives.

But my anxiety sets in and I experience an overwhelming fear of not knowing how to write black characters. I worry if I’m in touch enough with the community and the problems we face. I don’t feel I got my ear on the streets in other words. So why not just write about my experience you ask. After all, every black experience is authentic. But my reluctance is feeling that as a black writer, writing black stories, it’s unacceptable to gloss over our past-like present state of circumstances. And I’m not sure I am the best for the job of addressing those issues the right way. This reluctance illustrates the crippling effect a sense of not belonging can have. Because if I don’t fit in, how can I do our plight and our experience justice, or even paint a realistic picture of the diversity of black lives making it relatable and acceptable to us. Because it’s not the opinion of whites or other nonblacks I care about, but the opinions and critiques of the black community.

So this is me. Black. African American. And oh by the way, transgender. And wondering how the hell to tell our story while in some ways feeling like an outsider.