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By Lashelle Johnson
The sixteenth day of February greeted me at my door with frigid winds and overcast skies mirroring the lifeless stone walls of the building to which I was on my way. I had a meeting at eight thirty, sharp. That was the last thing on my mind, however, and it manifested in a slow trudge to my car. Adorned in black. A kaddish scraping dissonance across my fatigued neural pathways.
I was in mourning. For me, Black History Month had ended–or so I had convinced myself.
Mixed kids don’t get the pleasure of a 28 day celebration.
Perhaps an exercise in melodramaticism, sure, but I felt the beginnings of grief as clearly as the sting of crisp air atop my cheeks. I shoved my face further into my coat.
There is something profoundly alienating about growing up in a community to which you feel you have no claim. I was not the one to instill these thoughts in my own head and I have grown considerably since they were first implanted, but they remain. Thoughts of cultural inadequacy endure. “Wokeness” could not save me. And so, for this mixed kid—quadroon, if you’re nasty—Black History Month was over and only those people who claimed to be blacker than me were allowed to continue celebrating.
Again, was I being melodramatic? Maybe, but noire-clad melodrama is my aesthetic and I was knee-deep in post-birthday emotion.
Sixteen days in and I was cut off from the community again; benched in the game of blackness; forced to sit beside people who gleefully proclaim that even they’re blacker than me in all their porcelain glory. It had been decades since I accepted the possibility that the community agrees. I’m not black enough. Those wounds never truly heal.
On February 11, I turned a balmy twenty-six and, as with any post-milestone birthday, I was overcome with ennui and the numbness foreshadowing an existential crisis.
At promptly 7:45, I pulled into a parking garage and cried.
It has always been easier to sit down and stay quiet with regard to my blackness. No one cares about the little mixed girl who wants to be included in conversation. No one cares about the girl who has loud fiber-optic thoughts about the infinite number of different diasporic black experiences. No one cares about her “lightskin feelings”. So in the parking garage of a $150 million building, that girl with the loud thoughts realized she had to care. Her feelings were valid no matter the shade. She was black enough.
I am black enough.
Blackness doesn’t come with an instruction manual. There are varying types, different shades, and different experiences, but nothing negates blackness. I know this. It was a hard fought catharsis. A catharsis tempered with my understanding of my privileged type of blackness.
In a crayon box, my shade would fall somewhere between a far-too-milky latte at Starbucks and the crema on an expertly pulled shot of espresso depending on the season. This affords me a degree of safety and comfort absent from the experiences of others. I have never forgotten this. I never will.
My shade of black does not invalidate my blackness; it affords me the safety to center others.
At twenty-six, this lesson should not have been novel, but it felt wholly new. Celebrating blackness—and Black History Month—is not an insular process. Black History Month celebrates all blackness in all its diasporic beauty and so should I. It’s okay to cry. To be afraid. To be confused. To occasionally succumb to cultural lassitude. But we must move forward.
At 8:20 the skies were still grey, but the wind had calmed and so had I.