Black Lives Matter: Unless You're Mixed?
Every now and then I write something on this platform that isn't related to entertainment or trending social media topics. I have made no qualms about the fact that I'm a mixed man of color. I've very proudly claimed that I am both Black and Mexican on so many past postings across various platforms. Albeit, I grew up inundated with the Black side of my culture with sprinkles - maybe even splashes - of the Mexican side of my culture. I grew up on collard greens, neck-bones, fried chicken, and the baked mac. Having an enchilada, tamale or pozole dabbed in every now and then. I grew up on Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and B.B. King with a dash of Celia Cruz, Selena, and Gloria Estefan. That's not to say, however, that I'm any less proud or competent of my Mexican heritage. I AM both. I am proud of both and I do not intend to choose one over the other. Nevertheless, my experiential conditioning growing up is so wrapped up in my Blackness. My lens in life is viewed and lived through the eyes of the half of me that is Black. My references are Black. My music is Black. My style, inflections and experience is Black, but does that make me Black? Does the color of my skin outweigh the blood I carry?
In a post I put on Facebook, I made the declaration that a person can not downgrade my Blackness because I don't agree with them on particular issues. This post set off a personal bomb for me that I was not intending to have triggered. It set in motion years - my entire life - of defending and discovering who I am and what I stand on. It put into question whether or not I have the ability, the room or even just the right to speak about Blackness. It was brought to my attention that I - as a mixed man of color - can very easily be seen as an appropriating fraud. That for many, my Blackness is only technical and because it does not predominantly show up in my skin tone or my facial features that I am privileged to be able to claim the culture without claiming the struggle. I was told that I am not Becky from Mount Caucus but instead Becky who claims the 1/16th of her Native tribal heritage and wishes to advocate for the injustices to her community, asking to be respected as a proud Native American. It was made very clear - by a chocolate skinned friend and brother of mine - that my experience in our country and in this world is not the same. As a dark skinned Black man he will receive particular injustices that I - having lighter skin and looking more latin - will never experience.
It was in that moment and in that statement that I realized that my voice may not be as powerful as I would have hoped it to be. I was angry in that moment. I was angry because whether or not I "look" Black, the fact is I DO NOT look white. I do not receive the privilege of Caucasity. I still look like a person of color and have experienced many racist and prejudiced moments in my life as a man of color. Many of which other Black men have not experienced, even if they are able to resonate with those experiences vicariously through others in the community. I was hurt because this statement was coming from a friend, a brother, that I've come to love and respect. And just as quickly as I was hurt and angry, I had to take a breath and realize that whether I liked it or not, there was truth to what he said to me. My brother was forcing me to deal with a truth that many of a darker hue or more Black indicative features may feel, think, and/or believe. Unfortunately, it also forced me to think of a very important question: As a mixed man of color, do I even matter?
The truth is, as a mixed man of color - specifically Black and Mexican - I have always been in the middle of the racial war and have been forced to choose a side. I have always had people to look at me and hear my voice and question whether or not I belong. I have seen the world through a lens that was both separate and inclusive. I see and understand the Black struggle and process it just as I see and understand the Mexican struggle and process it within this racially tumultuous country we live in. I am able to see the similarities in culture. The family structure, the food, the history, the enslavement, the prejudice, and the systematic oppression that keeps both Black people and Mexican people in the gorge of inequality. But does it matter? Does it make a difference? Can my voice really and truly be heard and accepted?
Some of the Black community has accepted me because I do understand the culture. I mean, in all fairness, it's MY culture too. However, when I speak on Black issues I am told that my voice does not matter because I can not truly know the fullness of the struggle. Yet, which particular struggle are we looking at? To be honest, for many, I don't even think it matters. I'm labeled too light skinned, too latin. I'm thrown into the prison of colorism that our community has systematically been taught to uphold. The reality is, NO! I will never know what it is to be a dark skinned person in this country, but to make that an issue is to say that EVERY dark skinned person has the same experience. That every BLACK person, for that matter, has the same experience. Did Marin Luther have the same experience as Malcom? Did Rosa have the same experience as Harriet or did they have different experiences with enough shared variables to understand what the other may have gone through? Was the understanding of what it FEELS like enough to let them stand together on a unanimous message: Black Lives F****** MATTER! In all shades.
I know what it is to have my breath stolen from me - from the fear of seeing a cop rolling up behind me. I've been a person of color in the LA Jail system twice in my life. So I've been the statistic already. I've had a white cop, latin cop, and Black cop harass me for what I look like because they couldn't place me in a particular box of color. I've been called a "faggot nigger spick" while having a gun pointed at my head in a jail cell because the officer was simply having a bad day and didn't like how I looked at him. I've had my Black brothers and sisters degrade Mexicans in front of me while saying, "Oh, but I don't mean you! You cool!" as to say that I'm their token. And I've had the Mexican community shun me for not speaking Spanish and having too many "Negrito" friends not knowing that I too have "Negrito" blood.
I KNOW what racism FEELS like! I am NOT a Becky of ANY sort who can not relate. However, I'm afraid that - for some - I will never be Black enough nor will I be Mexican enough. I will always be asked to choose. I will always be looked at as someone who should just keep quiet because, "You don't really understand." I realize after hearing the perspectives of others that my voice may - in many circles - not matter. I realize that, even though I can understand what something feels like, that if my look doesn't line up with what that struggle should look like, that my experience is circumstantial.
Black mixed kids always have to fight for belonging. Especially if you're a Black Mixed kid that looks like me. We fight to know who our community really is. To know where we authentically belong and can be accepted. Where does our voice really fit? When is who we are enough? It's a place that tortures half of our being to continually have to ask, "Does MY Black life matter?"
Sadly, we may never really know...