Laying claim to my own blackness
Being an Afro-American is a diverse experience that resists simple characterizations.
My own heritage as an Afro-American is rich. I am the amalgamation of all my ancestors: Universalist and Unitarian; Mende and Bolum [ethnic groups in Sierra Leone], English and Scottish, Native American, French Huguenot, perhaps Fijian and whatever else. I am the progeny of plantation owners, slave traders, and slaves, of those who fought for the Confederacy and for the Union, a state senator and a seafarer, strong matriarchs and dutiful men. I am, in fact, a descendant of all who came together in this ethnic cauldron, and no one has a stronger claim on being Afro-American or All-American than I. I am what I am. I refuse to disown white Confederate Joe Gregory, or to pick and choose among my ancestors.
My Afro-Americanness is not a politically correct ideology; it is an experience, a legacy with its own intrinsic authenticity. The pain of being excluded led me to conclude that blackness as an ideology narrows its meaning. Those who use blackness as a litmus test to discredit some Afro-American voices while sanctioning others abuse it; they turn blackness into a political artifice meant to consolidate power. They racialize every issue to divide rather than to unify, and usurp rather than empower.
Being an Afro-American is a diverse experience that resists simple characterizations. Every time I sit and listen with an open heart to the stories of my black sisters and brothers, the meaning of blackness gains new richness, depth, and breadth. And when I am reminded that there is no one way or right way of being black, the ache of my loneliness retreats and my sense of belonging grows.
Excerpted from In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby, ©2009 by Mark Morrison-Reed. Reprinted with permission of Skinner House Books. See sidebar for links to related resources.