As social awareness of all the various iterations of systemic discrimination garner more mainstream attention, how Black people talk about race, prejudice and survival has actualized in our own collection of modern idioms such as “Stay woke” and “Watch whiteness work.”
But, my favorite is the one that may be the most heavily-used and also the least axiomatic: “Unapologetically Black.”
To some, it is merely a term that describes being willing to engage in stereotypical Black behavior without internalizing any semblance of societal shame from the silent majority who deem Blackness and all of its cultural facilities as indices of an inherent inferiority. Basically, it’s Black people’s willingness to publicly dance how we want, speak how we want, and even eat what we want, irrespective of our audience.
But that isn’t the definition that characterizes my embodiment of unapologetic Blackness. For me, it isn’t about performance as much as it is about overcoming the larger internal struggle. To be unapologetically Black, as I see it, is to effectively shed one’s double-consciousness.
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a seminal piece of literature called, The Souls of Black Folk in which he coined and explained the term “double-consciousness (using and editing an earlier essay written in 1897).
See his explanation of the term below:
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Growing up and being raised in a predominantly white, middle-class suburb is a unique deflowering of what race means in the world, and what it must mean to you, almost as a means of survival. As children, before developing any thorough understanding of the social constructs of race, we all strive to be loved and accepted by family and friends, and growing up with mostly white peers doesn’t change that for young Black kids.
But it does eventually acquaint them with an actuality that can be as stark as it is painful; this world has not made reality the same for you and your comrades.
In my old neighborhood, I was frequently one of the taller kids in my entire grade, which meant as one of only five Black boys in the entire school, I was routinely treated as being older than I was. So I had to be cognizant of how I acted in every scenario. When my white friends would get upset, other parents outside of the school would attempt to calm them down. The few times I got incensed, school administrators (and once, even the police) were called to attempt to restrain me. So I stopped getting upset, and I decided to stop getting in fights, which, for some, is just a simple act of self-control but, for me, it was the beginning of restricting my natural self for the comfort of “they.”
When I arrived at my university, flushed with a massive cultural assemblage, I found myself shedding the ingrained double-consciousness that silently ruled my life throughout my formative years. What happened was that I freed myself to engage in my unfettered humanity just as my white friends, acquaintances and foes have done throughout their lives. Wholly refusing to inhibit my personality and my comfort, to satiate an implicit societal understanding – and meeting, as well as dating, women who feel the exact same way.
And, to keep it real, I know I can’t go back.
As a man who is wholly committed to jumping the broom and eventually having my own family, I refuse to date a woman who believes that respectability politics and internally impeding one’s natural self (or worst, fusing their natural self together with that respectability, through the flame of white security) is the best way for Black folks to live. I’ve done it before, and it only truly works if both parties are equally “woke” or equally “sleep.”
This does not mean that I need her to consume and embody all that is considered “Black culture,” but it does mean that I need to know that she has divorced herself from believing it’s her duty to provide white comfort, no matter how much discomfort that creates for herself.
While I most likely will not be able to shield my children from prejudice and institutionalized racism, I can, at the very least, protect them from having their minds colonized.