“Why do you talk like that?”
“You dress like you’re white.”
“You like classical music?!” “You don’t like fried chicken?!”
“You don’t like BET?!”
“You’re not black.”
For the love of God, please shut the hell up!
I’m sorry if I’m not your definition of what “black” is supposed to be. But I happen to like who I am, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I wasn't sure if I could write a monologue on my experiences as a black person, let alone share my opinions. But when I was asked to join the original virtual performance entitled Monologues of the Black Experience, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn't pass upon. I was unsure if I could even do it, let alone make my words make sense. And there was even fear that my experiences wouldn't be relatable to others. You have to understand, I didn't go to predominantly black schools or had blacks as my main group of friends. I have a mix of all races as my friends and acquaintances - white, black, Asian, Indian, Jewish, you name it. You'd think I would have a pleasant experience being black being surrounded by such diversity. Think again. There was one time when I was in elementary school when we were doing projects in honor of Black History Month, and I was into it. REALLY into it. I would say things like, "Let's make Dr. King proud," or other things like that. I was constantly picked on and belittled by several classmates for my black pride, and that made me feel ashamed and embarrassed to be black. After that, I never celebrated the accomplishments of blacks again. No matter how much my mom emphasized the triumphs of blacks breaking barriers in the news, I always pushed it aside after what I experienced in school. In all fair honesty, there was a part of me that felt like I had to be a certain way in order to fit in. But it took me many years to realize that I didn't have to fit into their definition of what being "black" had to be. Come to think of it, no one in any of their races or religions should have to fit into what the media paints us to be. We're not monolithic; we're diverse, we're unique, we're individuals, we're originals. We're so much more than what the media paints us to be. If anything, that's what inspired me to write the monologue, Define "Black". I'm tired of what the media paints us to what we're "supposed" to be in order to make money or "it's what it's expected" to be seen on stage, TV, and the silver screen. But there was also something else that inspired me to write this monologue. One day, my best friend and I were hanging out at the mall and enjoying each other's company and talking about what we're going to buy or what we'd dream of buying someday. You know, the normal things most high school girls would talk about when spending an afternoon at the mall. As we stopped at a cafe to sit down, there was a group of black students congregating near us that went to the same high school we did. They were whispering and looking at us and laughing at us. Later on, my best friend said something that would rattle me for many years after this encounter. She told me that they said that "we dress like white people." Wait, what? Is there something wrong with the way we dressed that day? Are we supposed to be the exact same as you in mannerisms, speech, and general likes and dislikes? Do we have to be carbon copies of you? I didn't want to be. I still don't. No one person is exactly the same as the other, even twins. But if you dress twins in the same clothing when they're younger, chances are they will develop their own style when they get older so that even they can be differentiated from the other half. There's a reason why Barney's "You Are Special" still rings true to this day. (So I like the big purple dinosaur from when I was younger, and I still watch reruns from time to time. What are you going to do, sue me?) The lyrics literally say, "you are special, you're the only one, you're the only one like you." It rang true back in 1993, and it still rings true in 2020. There's only ONE of us. Even twins have their differences even though they look the same. We shouldn't have to try to copy what everyone else is doing. Even if the fashion trends are encouraging people to buy the latest craze, it doesn't fit our bodies in the exact same way, and we may not like the style or design of that outfit or piece of clothing. The same goes for music, food, books, technology, even toys. We shouldn't have to be relegated to have the same of everything because it doesn't fit our exact tastes since we're all INDIVIDUALS. It doesn't help when the media feels like we have to fit the exact same likes, feelings, physique, education, and stories so that they can make money. If you really want to be successful, you should take a page from Barney and cater to each individual's wants and needs. No one person is the same, and they shouldn't try to be. That is something I struggled with for many years, and I'm only now just realizing that that's not the case anymore. I thought I would do something a little different for this week's blog. You may or may not have seen my performance from Monologues of the Black Experience or even the entire clip of Define "Black". But even if you haven't, I thought I would give you a chance to get a view of what I wrote and an in-depth analysis of what was going on in my mind as I put the thoughts and feelings onto paper from my MacBook Pro. We're going line by line, sometimes in groups. But you're getting the full experience of what I hope will be an enlightening journey on what it really means to be an individual, and not settle for being monolithic. You already got a glimpse of the beginning of the monologue and what was the inspiration and ideology behind it. Now, it's time to go further. Are you ready? 'Cause there's no turning back now. To all the directors, producers, screenwriters, theatremakers, and anyone who is of the creative mind, let me ask you something that could prove important for your next project you do that's black or persons of color centric: have you had the opportunity to speak to each and every person of color on what they've experienced in their communities? And I do mean EACH AND EVERY PERSON? I ask this question because not every person has had the same experience or upbringing that you portray in the media. Not all of us went to underserved public schools, or live in rough neighborhoods, or listen to the same music. So, humor me a bit. Why do you feel that you have to tell the same story about blacks and persons of color if they're NOT all the same? That's just making assumptions, and as my mom would often tell me when I make assumptions, you make an ass of yourself. And clearly, you're making an ass of yourself when you constantly stick to the same stories about blacks and people of color just because it's what sells. You're not getting all the facts about EACH AND EVERYONE OF US, and quite frankly, it's disheartening to think that the only stories out there that should be told on repeat are about slavery, civil rights, and the hardships people of color face on a daily basis. I'm not saying those tales and experiences aren't important. While I agree that those stories should be told to each and every generation, those shouldn't have to be all of the stories told on stage, screen, and TV. The least you can do is ask black and persons of color individually on what they would like to see portrayed in front of their eyes. I can promise you it's more than what is usually portrayed in the media because it doesn't necessarily describe ALL of them. Case in point: I enunciate because my mother taught me to do so, just as her parents taught her and her siblings. Slang wasn’t an option. It still isn’t, come to think of it.
I enjoy shopping at mainstream stores like LOFT, Old Navy, Stitch Fix, and more because I want to feel beautiful.
I don’t eat fried chicken or any fatty foods because it is unhealthy for me, and I’m trying to sever ties with diabetes and bad heart health in my family.
I enjoy ALL types of music - classical, jazz, Latin, Broadway, oldies, rock, alternative, Tin Pan Alley, old school R&B, etc. because of my upbringing and musical education.
I enjoy watching sitcoms, period dramas, anime, Disney movies, films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, animal programs, home decor shows, and Saturday morning cartoons because it makes me happy and relaxes me. As you can see, I'm not like some blacks or even most blacks that are being seen on the stage, screen, and television. I'm pretty sure there are more of us out there who can hopefully relate to what I went through growing up. Even if they can't, there's probably one aspect of their lives that is different from what is seen in most places or even expected of what they're supposed to be. There's a problem with just basing what you think about blacks and persons of color on just assumption alone, which I will elucidate below: Is there really supposed to be a general representation of what “black” people should be?
I don’t think so.
I hate to break this to you, but what you see on TV and film doesn’t even come close to what ALL blacks are.
As a matter of fact, that’s called stereotyping. That's right. Read it loud and clear: STEREOTYPING.
Because of how these stories should be told since "it's what sells", and how they should be portrayed in the media, you're only adding to the problem of racism. And even sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and many more phobias out there. If you really want to fight these fears and prejudices, do me a favor and do your homework on EACH AND EVERY individual because I can promise you that not one person will have the same exact response and experience as you want to portray on film, TV, or onstage. Again, case in point: For example…
I’m not a gangster or drug addict.
I don’t drink alcohol.
I don’t smoke cigarettes or marijuana.
I don’t go around dropping f-bombs or other curse vocabularies every second word when I talk. (I don’t do anything of that because it makes me uncomfortable.)
I don’t limit my music experience to just black artists.
I don’t go to clubs on weekends or any given night. I’m not a loud-mouth.
I don’t do any of those things Hollywood or the media paints us to be. That section of the monologue should speak for itself. I'm not like some of the blacks you see on film, TV, or even on the stage. But I'm frequently troubled by all the creative minds putting the stereotype of blacks and persons of color on screen or in theaters, or even fellow performers who indavertently say racist remarks that seem harmless to them. No, not all of us fit those descriptions or go to these events that you seem to think we do. There you go being an ass again. Please stop that! We shouldn't even have to see the same stories about black hardships and struggles out there. There's a whole wide world out there with tales, histories, and legends just waiting to be told. Take a page from my book: Here’s a thought:
Tell stories about the blacks you DON’T know about or see on a regular basis.
What about blacks who like anime?
What about blacks who like to exercise?
What about blacks who enjoy eating healthy?
What about blacks who like games like Dungeons & Dragons or Settlers of Catan?
What about blacks who are quiet and introspective?
What about blacks who are gay, lesbian, or transgender?
What about blacks who are mathematicians?
What about blacks who love the theatre?
What about blacks who speak other languages, not just Spanish because it’s easy?
What about blacks who are scientists?
What about blacks who are paramedics, as well as doctors? What about blacks who hold major roles in the armed forces? What about blacks who are into Shakespeare? What about blacks who enjoy traveling? What about blacks who play in symphonies?
What about blacks who don’t look “black”?
What about blacks who like classic novels by Tolkien, Jane Austen, or F Scott Fitzgerald, just to name a few? What about blacks who love fantasy?
What about blacks who adore Disney movies? Where are those stories?
Films like Tap, Glory, Akeelah & the Bee, Self Made, and Hidden Figures are several examples of the lesser-known stories of blacks and persons of color being individuals as opposed to being assimilated into what is expected to be seen. The creators and writers penned these stories of individuals who went for what made them happiest, even if it wasn't the "usual" thing blacks do. These individuals went towards their dreams in that field or even allow them to consider the endless possibilities out there. You shouldn't have to always tell the stories about slavery, the Jim Crow South, the Civil Rights movement, or other stories of hardships. That's not all the stories that are out there to tell. Take the opportunity to tell stories of success, hard work, inspiration, but more importantly, let those stories come from off the beaten path. There are PLENTY of stories to be told out there, especially if they're not in the history books. The best place to look? I recommend the library and bookstores. There's a whole world of knowledge to be found there, and it's somehow a little bit, if not more than, reputable than the worldwide web. Again, I'm not saying that you should hide the struggles of blacks and persons of color. They do matter. But you should at least take into consideration that not all stories or even all of us are monolithic. Nor should they be monolithic. I wish I can understand why you insist on telling the same stories over and over again when there's a whole WORLD of tales and histories that are waiting to be told to new audiences and the next generation. It shouldn't have to be just about money or fame, though that does play an important part in creating a film, TV series, musical or straight play. The story should matter just as much, especially if you want to reach out to people who need to hear it when it matters to them individually and not to be assimilated with everyone else. There should be pride in being your own individual instead of being forced to fit in with the crowd. Relatability is also a vital part of the story, but also remember that not every experience is the same and to reach out to every single person because, at the end of the day, we're all originals. Is it that so hard to do? I know what you're all saying. "Okay, okay, we get it! Stories shouldn't have to just be about slavery, the Civil Rights movement or any hardships blacks and persons of color have faced. We need to focus on individuality and not be monolithic. But what about you? Do you have any feelings at all about what it means to be black?" As a matter of fact, yes I do. But before I get to that, let me say something that has been said time and time again in my blogs. I'm not an expert on this by any means. This is just the things that I've experienced as an individual, what I've seen in the media, and my opinions on what needs to be changed if we want to progressively move forward. You don't have to say that I'm 100% right (I'm open to discussion, and believe me, admitting that I do have shortcomings in my opinions is a hard pill to swallow but it's also necessary.), but also know that I value your ideas and thoughts just as much. Now, back to the matter at hand. What does being black mean to me? Sometimes people ask me what I believe in as a black woman. I believe that being black means moving forward instead of blaming the color of our skin for all of the problems in our country or in the world.
It means embracing the things that make us happy, even if it’s things or ideas that are not so common for black people to do.
It means that we learn from our ancestors who fought for acceptance and equality, not chastise them for not doing enough.
It means embracing the things that make us happy, even if it’s things or ideas that are not so common for black people to do.
It means not following the crowd, and being proud of being your own person.
It means fighting for change that is long overdue, and not just doing nothing.
It means teaching others that character is far more important than color. Did I just come up with those statements from out of the blue? Nope. It took my 31-going-on-32 years of growing up to see what it meant to me to be black as an individual and not follow the crowd. Even though I now live on the East Coast, I was born in Merrillville, Indiana. But I lived in a city called Gary, Indiana. (Music Man reference, anyone?) This city used to be a thriving, vibrant place to live and was often one of the locations many blacks went to during the Great Migration from 1916-70. Unfortunately, they also brought their negativity from their many years of living in the South and experiencing so much hardship. Gary wasn't untouched by this, and there were times when the neighborhood I lived in was very dangerous for a young family to live in. My neighbors on the block we lived on weren't that friendly, to begin with, and more often than not, the police would often come and break up a few scuffles. Needless to say, my mom moved my sister and me to a different area of Gary, which was a little bit better, but not by much. While it was nice to be closer to the beach, it was still a rough area to live and grow up. We finally got out of there when I was a preteen. Sadly, we were forced to move back to Gary after my senior year of high school. If you can recall from my previous blogs, my mom had lost her job as a dietitian, and money was tight. We were forced to move out of our duplex in Crown Point, and my mom went to live with my godmother, while my sister and I were sent to live with our abusive father. It wasn't the best arrangement, to say the least, for both my mental and emotional health. That's why I was grateful to be finally leaving Gary for good in 2012. The whole neighborhood, region, and even state had become too racist and backward for our taste, and I wanted to be around people that were closely aligned with my beliefs. I was different from most of the blacks in my neighborhood, let alone the entire region. It goes back to being schooled in the private school systems and being surrounded by Caucasians for the most part. I didn't have to assimilate with others. I was fine the way I am as an individual. And sometimes, realizing that I was different from the rest was both a pain and a blessing. Whenever I think about this particular section of Define "Black," I think about Gary. So many times I have heard blacks griping about their circumstances, but not taking action to change things. Or it would be finding a scapegoat and not realizing that they need to be the ones to take action. They're not willing to embrace opportunities for themselves and for their families and the next generation. That's when I realized that I'm not like them. Of course, I'm not from the South, and I never had to walk a mile in their shoes to fully comprehend the struggles they had. But I also see that constantly not taking action, finding someone else to blame for their misfortunes, and not even being hopeful is not healthy. Not for me, not for anybody. I'd rather embrace the notion of moving forward instead of staying rooted in one spot. We shouldn't have to constantly look for scapegoats in order to make ourselves feel better, nor should we have to repeatedly blame our skin color for our misfortunes. We shouldn't have to constantly look back because it didn't work the first time, and it doesn't benefit all of us. We shouldn't have to criticize or call out leaders and activists for standing up for blacks and persons of color when so many times we would be ignored and mistreated. We're not the ones at fault for fighting for equality, respect, appreciation, and love in this nation and in the world. It's people who aren't willing to accept change as the only constant and are afraid of people who are different from them by the basis of color, religion, sexuality, and nationality. I'd rather be appreciated for being an individual and not having to assimilate in order to fit in and be accepted. No one should have to feel ostracized for being unique. I have a different way of looking at things, mainly a glass half full outlook. But that's why I'm happy to be who I am as a person, and not be seen as a collective whole. That's what it means to be black in my eyes. To be appreciated and respected for being the individual I was meant to be and to always keep moving forward. Yes, these views are somewhat radical from what some blacks often have. But has there ever been a time when I was called out for my progressive views? I'm glad you asked. I was once told to “enjoy living on my plantation” because of my thinking that our ancestors wouldn’t want us to live in the past but instead move forward. Yeah. That both hurt and confused me. But before I get into my feelings, let's back up and I will give you the details of what actually happened. (copied and pasted from my Facebook account on 6 July 2016) Well, it happened again...
Yesterday, I was browsing a news page on here and came across an article about what the Declaration of Independence means to people. A lady who shall forever remain nameless said that her ancestors weren't free, so why should she celebrate the 4th of July. I put in my input, saying that her ancestors wouldn't want her to wallow in self-pity, what happened in the past shouldn't cloud her judgment in the present, and that all lives are sacred regardless of color. What the lady said to me next was truly shocking: she told me to "enjoy living on the plantation." And then, she had the nerve to call me a troll. I had to block her before I lost my temper... If you read from my recent blog on the Declaration of Independence, there is some, if not a lot of truth in what she had to say. Blacks weren't free in 1776, and wouldn't be until Juneteenth. And even more importantly, black lives DO matter. But she still shouldn't have called me out for "living on the plantation" or even consider me a troll for saying that our ancestors wouldn't want us to wallow in self-pity or even let the past cloud her judgment for living in the present. Even though it was from 2016, there's still some truth in what I had to say. Would our ancestors want us to keep looking back and stay rooted in one spot? Should we throw in the towel and give up the fight, or even say that it's not even worth it? Of course not! They'd want us to finish the fight they've crusaded for over 200 years, or even longer than that. They'd want us to keep moving forward and make future generations proud that we are standing up for what we believe in and be the change children and grandchildren live to see many years after we've gone. "Enjoy living on your plantation." For many years, that statement hurt me because of my progressive thinking.
But my progressive thinking has become my strength. If you want to talk about politics, all you need to know is that I want to keep moving forward. I believe in equal opportunities for all races, religions, sexualities, genders, and nationalities. I keep looking forward and not remain in the past. It took me years to finally not let the past impact my present and future, and it feels frickin' good. I would rather have my children and grandchildren look up to me as a shining example of someone who had to work her way through the pain and struggles and be open about her past and insecurities. Finally, I was able to spread my wings and fly. It's not always easy to stand up for your progressive views or even be taught by others who are more knowledgeable and aware of how things actually work. It's sad that there are people out there who would rather gripe and moan and not take action. But whatever the reason may be, don't let that stop you from fighting for the things you believe in. And most of all, let the very things you stand up to keep you moving forward and onward into new times, ideas, adventures, and discoveries. Our fight is far from over.
But we shouldn’t have to accept the stereotype of what our race is.
Because that’s not who we ALL are. We deserve an equal representation of ALL the different personalities, likes, dislikes, and tastes.
Not just a small fraction because it’s what sells or what is expected to be seen. Am I ever going to be silent about this? If you know me, it's liable to show up in another blog down the road. In other words - NO! There's a movement for change within the performing arts industry, where blacks and persons of color are calling for equal pay on film, TV, and stage. But more importantly, they're also screaming from the rooftops to not let their stories be exploited by white creators, directors, producers, screenwriters, and many more creative minds just to make money and gather audiences together. There's also a call for more diversity on production teams, boards, and other organizations where every voice can be heard and respected. Here's my message for all of you leading the charge: don't let it be silenced or get lost in the crowd. Put the words and shouts on repeat every chance you get. Don't settle for less than what you're asking for. Fight for those opportunities for ALL personalities, individuals, and creative minds to be represented in the media. Don't settle for "it's what is expected" or give up because they won't listen to you and continue to stereotype. Make them hear you. Loud and clear. It's good to offer different aspects of the stories and share the lesser-known tales of what it means to be a black human being or person of color. Celebrate the individuality of each person of each race, especially blacks and persons of color. We're not monolithic. Take the opportunity to get to know each and every one of us. Our likes, dislikes, personalities, and tastes are not all the same as you portray in the media or even assume from being surrounded by us. (Remember what I said about assumptions? You make an ass of yourself. I don't think you want to be known as a complete ass.) Don't accept the version of yourself that isn't the real you. Embrace what makes you, even if it's not the usual things that are being seen on the media. Highlight those special pieces of you that aren't what people expect of you, and always remember to be true to yourself. I certainly am. Be proud of who you are, and celebrate the things that makeup you INDIVIDUALLY. Don't settle for the stereotypes. Tell your story. MAKE THEM HEAR YOU. I’m not a perfect representation of what “black” looks like.
But I would rather be myself than be a copy of something that I’m not.
And that’s the way it should be. P.S. My performance from Monologues of the Black Experience is now available to watch on YouTube. Come check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPReY-zaEDk