I shouldn’t have to specify or clarify, but because I want to be clear and I don’t want my words to be misunderstood or misconstrued- I have always loved my culture, I have loved experiencing and sharing in Black joy and genuinely embracing the interesting cocktail that is being a melanated person walking this planet. That being said, I have never fallen MORE in love with my culture than when I am sharing it with someone and when someone can show me what they also love about it. So! This week on the blog, I share how dating someone who isn’t part of my culture has in fact helped me fall deeper in love with it. Have a read and see if you follow my gist.
I exist as I am and that is enough.Walt Whitman
As “trendy” or “à la mode” as it may seem now, being Black wasn’t always seen as such a “cool” thing or even celebrated as openly and especially not for me, when the typical things within Black North American culture, weren’t things I could relate to. Growing up in a Caribbean house, in the West of the Island of Montreal didn’t give much to tap into your Blackness and on top of that, my mother insisted we do all of the things to avoid being stereotyped and in some ways it was a form of assimilation. This is in no way a knock on my mother, but if we’re being honest, she wanted the very best for us and wanted to protect us from the racism and ignorance we would face as immigrant children. Of course, some of us (me), took this far too seriously to the point where I can’t say that I connected to my culture much until I moved to a new country. Oddly, being part of a very, very minute number of Black people in a small town in Northern England, ignited my desire to get to know myself and my culture more. Something about the isolation, almost made me acutely aware of my Blackness (people also insisted on letting me, as if I wasn’t already aware), but instead of shrinking, I stepped into it.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I have never been made to feel more othered in my own Blakness, than amongst other Black people. The critique on how I dressed, walked, presented myself was all dissected and served back to me with ways in which I didn’t fit a mold. By no means, was I divergent or even pushing any boundaries at all. What motivated this blog post, was most recently, I was told by a failed date that the reason he didn’t want to continue to see me, was because he felt I wasn’t “Carribean enough“. I would 100% be lying if I said I wasn’t triggered by this- it was a flashback to the things I was told in my youth. I grew up in Canada, left the islands when I was 2 and have never set foot there again, I didn’t grow up with my cousins or family around and my mother was a strict English teacher…. what else was expected? I was always made to feel like I didn’t belong in my community and instead of including me, I was pushed out and made fun of; so, tell me how I would then have a positive connection or even relationship with what it means to be a “Carribean” growing up in Canada? This is genuinely something we, within the community need to do a better job with, we make comments on someone’s Blackness (whatever that contrived notion is), which only further isolates and does nothing to welcome, embrace or even teach people about their culture. Some of the most negative comments I have experienced have been from people I thought were family or friends, people I thought I felt community with. The idea that every Black person should be able to wine and rotate their hips a certain way or be able and willing to throw down at Caribana or even be able to list the top 10 Soca singers- because these are all markers for what exactly? It’s like saying you’re not Canadian if you don’t like maple syrup or say “eh” after every sentence. Having very narrow ideas of what it means to be or even identify as a group of people isn’t progressive, in fact- it’s limiting and small minded. Being Black isn’t a monolith. We do not all look the same, we do not all act the same, we do not all eat the same foods and we not all speak the same colonial language.
If you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection.
One interesting thing I found while dating, was that I was drawn to people who not only loved Black culture, but who also embraced it and was genuinely interested in learning more about it authentically. What I learned was that sharing the parts of my culture I did know, also forced me to look into the things I didn’t know. Being students together made me realize just how vast our cultures are and that there is no 1 way to be “Black”. All the years I had heard comments like “you’re not Black enough” or “you don’t listen to Black music” or “you’re so well spoken”, unbeknownst to the people who said these types of things to me, it caused me to very much disassociate with whatever flawed idea of what it meant to “be Black”- as if we’re all the same. Cue the eye roll. But what I really love is meeting someone who is enraptured by Black culture, not to copy or mimic it- but to gain insight and with awe and appreciation. Him sharing some of his favourite hip-hop artists with me, a genre I never could relate to, seeing the passion he had for it, made me proud but also, I realize I didn’t appreciate it enough myself. Not all Hip Hop artists are the same. Having deep convos about tribalism and art, food- sharing funny videos all made me fall in love with my culture but also fall in love with being Black. I love my skin and I guess I always did- but that’s not to say I never had a blip to want to know what it was like to be lighter. Even finding social media accounts which celebrate, share and promote Carribean life and things we all have in common has provided so much laughter and a shared understanding in our lived experience. This isn’t to say that dating another Black person didn’t make me love my culture, far from it, but what I should say, is the fact that I was made to feel some kind of way for not knowing certain things, when that expectation doesn’t happen when you date outside of your community. Being able to feel free to explore the foods, the music and even play around openly with my hair and styles were all things, I had been made to feel like I should have already known about. Of course, in the interest of being of fair, this wasn’t the case for every person I dated- I am of course talking about the ones which stood out, but I am fairly sure this isn’t a singular experience. It should also be noted that whenever you mention being born in the Carribean, people immediately get an image in their mind of what that means, when the reality is most people don’t know Grenada (it’s super tiny), and every single island is very different.
If there is to be some sort of moral to this blog post, it’s the simple one, we’ve heard over and over be proud of yourself and whatever journey it’s taken to get to know yourself. Even if it’s messy or it meant pushing back in order to comeback to it on your own terms. The immigrant experience isn’t all the same and the ways in which we have to sometimes tuck parts of ourselves away in order to simply survive, shouldn’t be ignored. Your experience is important and valid, you are enough as you are. In whatever representation of your Blackness or culture you choose to connect or identify with and don’t let anyone tell you any different- how would they know anyways?!