High School Haze

Oy vey.

So as most of you know – i’m on myspace – A networking tool which I totally love and have come to utilize heavily to advertise my shows and readings. One of the coolest things about myspace is that I’ve been finding friends from high school!

One of my dearest friends that I never thought I would find emailed me and after our exchange of a few emails – she asked me if I had found my birth parents and of course – I sent her to my blog. Later that night I got this amazing email from her. Its divided into excerpts to protect her identity, but damn – this is some shit.

“I printed your pages (all 27 of them), sent my son off to bed with his daddy and climbed into the tub. Girl, I have to tell you, my heart was pounding as I read your blog posts. There was so much in your writing, I could feel it. …”

“. . . I am a very honest person, I dont know if you remember how I was in high school, but I think I was then too…so hopefully not much has changed with me. I feel I can tell you this, so please dont get mad. I think back at high school, Lisa, and I dont know if you remember this, but when you came to our school, new …it was such the topic of conversation as to what you were – ethnically. . . here was I?? I can remember other kids at PHS talking about your ethnicity. And I remember people saying you said you weren’t black…..and many of them thought you were in denial. I of course, would never have told you this in high school because I knew it would have pissed you off and/or hurt your feelings. It’s funny because I believed you. Hell, I figured if anyone knew what YOU were it was YOU? Right? But most importantly did it really matter? I guess (after reading your blog) it really did matter to you.”

“While I was reading your blog, I felt so mad that you had to defend yourself against people who felt the need to ask “What is she?” Do you know that when you went to prom/homecoming with ****, I remember it was a big freakin’ deal because he was white and you were (NOT) black among the black kids! LOL! I dont know if you ever knew, but it was! Even though half the PHS football team was dating white girls…and are married to them still today! (DONT GET ME STARTED!)”

“BTW, I loved “I KNEW I WAS FREAKING BLACK!” (Blog entry 2/6/06) I am just wondering though, Lisa how would you knowing you were black (and or finding your birth mother sooner, let’s say in high school) HOW would that have somehow changed your life experience? Just curious……”

So a few things.. if you dont know the back story on the complexity about my racial identity, how i used to think that the adoption agency packaged and marketed my body for adoption. Do some back reading in TBP. My first thought after reading this email from my friend was that I had no idea that i was such a topic of discussion in the black community. I don’t even remember people asking me if I was black and me saying no, that I wasn’t. How fucked up this is though!!!

For many black folks though, coming into a ‘black identity’ is partially related to having what one would consider a true black experience. Authenticity. “Real blackness”. Growing up in the hood, living in poverty, eatin’ soul food, listening to r&b and jazz.. these things are considered ‘black’ (not in a good way). So because I grew up in an all white community. Am i somehow less black? Many black people go through a questioning of identity even if they grow up in a black family. What if they grew up in the suburbs? What if they dont like rap music? What if they have white friends? What if people make fun of the way they talk? But of course for us – as adoptee’s – its an even harder questioning process if you have no roots to look back to.

What does it mean that the moment I took my first black studies class I understood that it didn’t matter what anyone said to me, what the adoption papers documented, what my parent and entire family wanted to believe – that I knew what I was. I knew that I was part of the African Diaspora. I knew that it didn’t matter that I was supposedly far away from all those things that in the popular imagination, in a white supremacist culture, in a culture that used ‘blackness’ to enslave and murder millions and millions of bodies with my skin color., that . . I knew what i was.

I dont blame my parents. They didnt know. They were just following the documentation. They just wanted to believe that i *was* that Asian-mix child they went looking for.

But what i *do* know, is that them being able to keep me ‘not black’ is the same kind of exceptionalism that so many white people try to put on “those good ones”.

“Youre not really black – black!” (nervous laughter)

“I don’t really think of you as black, you know?” (patronizing pat on the shoulder)

“I mean, you’re not like those other black people in the hood” (vigorous nodding from other co-workers.

What is it about denial and cultural/ racial identity that makes it easier for white people to be friends with, work with, live next door to black people? This denial allows for the gaze to be what they make it. It can be a look cast upon a black body that makes it “not black” in the same way those other black bodies are black.

“She’s so articulate”

Denial of blackness doesn’t make a black body any less black to the outside world. Growing up, i had what I’ve referred to as “hyper-black” experiences. I am the only the only black child for miles and miles, I am the only black body in a sea of whiteness that does nothing but want my blackness to be erased.

“but if we love her, and give her everything she needs, her race doesn’t matter”

Erasure of blackness. What does it take to ignore racism? What does it take to ignore blackness? What does it take to teach a child how to recognize when adults are targeting them with stereotypes that they don’t even know exist!! My own sibling said “nigger” in front of me once. They said it in passing, not to me or about me, but something about ‘nigger hair’. I froze. I controlled rage, I spoke gently and calmly about inappropriate that moment was.

but i sat with that moment and thought about what that meant. That moment and for so many other moments – I was invisible. The word was spoken as a white brother would say to his white sister. Without consciousness, without any understanding of my own life walking around as a black woman. He had no idea what it meant for me to be walking around as a black girl/woman.

What does it mean that one grounding moment for my life begins with a piece of paper that deny’s my identity? What kinds of denials do white parents enact and re-enact when they adopt a black child and then raise them in a community with no other black people? Are they hoping they will be ‘not black’?

Let me educate: there is no monolithic blackness. There no one way to ‘be black’. We are a diaspora. We are scattered, culturally hybrid and its what makes black people across the globe such a powerful sleeping giant. Its what makes the diaspora so beautiful. – but that doesn’t mean that outside, in the world, when I walk down the street that I can avoid the hate that makes me for so many people – nothing but a negro. and that’s what also makes my diaspora – a black diaspora.


7 thoughts on “High School Haze

  1. girrrrlll (and i write it that way because that’s the way i mean it–i can’t actually make it sound like a black girl–but on the page it works, right? 🙂 –i am one of those girls who people thought i thought i didn’t think i was black–you know what i mean. what’s up with being black one way? why do we black people and we white people and all of us all people insist on categorizing and defining things this way still? this is a comment just full of questions and a resounding big sound of applause for you and the way you’ve articulated this–

  2. Thank you. This is a very powerful post.

    I don’t understand why people don’t understand why it is wrong to say something like;
    “I don’t see you as black” or what ever race that person may be. It’s like saying, being black is bad, but I like you, so you aren’t black to me. Yuck!

  3. […] Two (or three?) people sent me this post: High School Haze « A Birth Project. I’ve had her on my bloglines for awhile now and when I read this post I was thinking of Jessica who grew up in a mostly white community and who’s experiences outside her home mirror this in some ways. I know that she has had to defend her blackness to other African American people before. At the same time, because she has black parents, she is able to take for granted her choices in a way that Madison can’t. This makes her the best resource for Madison because she is (obviously) Madison’s mother but also because she straddles two worlds and has most of her life. […]

  4. Lisa: This is a tremendous post. And it resonated for me on so many levels. In spite of having Japanese-American parents, I had this really split life where I was “whiteish” at school and “Japaneseish” on the weekend, at our JA church and with my relatives. I was recently talking to an old high school friend who was “really surprised” that I had contributed to an Asian American anthology because, she said, “I never saw you as Asian. I just saw you as ‘Sue'”. What to say to something like that. I don’t think I said anything.

  5. thanks for these comments my friends. its a trip how these things come around. It been a very long time since someone has said to me ‘you’re not realllly black..” but i think its because I have such a clear identification now and a full and educated understanding of who I am in relationship to whiteness. Even as a mixed body – i just dont function as a multi-racial person. I function as a *multi-cultural* person. I know its different for many mixed folks. – and white people really want to believe that somehow that ‘white blood’ is gonna mean something to the outside world. Again – personal idenfitication is great – and important for a child’s well-being – but outside – social identification much be recognized in order for a child to have a whole understanding of how race works.

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