Defining Blackness – Beyonce, Jamelia & Candelaria 2

Note: I posted this piece in 2009.  It bears repeating because of the recent brouhaha over Beyonce’s blackness.  It has never been in question for me.

I loved the spoof about this on Saturday Night Live (see video at end of this post)  and I loved the rebuttal by recording artists Jamelia to Piers Morgan’s assertion that he doesn’t like it when artists get political and that Queen Bey  should tone it down . Jamelia’s rebuttal is titled, “Piers Morgan, you don’t like Beyonce in Lemonade because her blackness isn’t white enough for you anymore.”  Jamelia gets him told.

Here’s my two cents/plenty of sense on definitions of Blackness.

You Can’t Take Black Away From Me

Have you ever been challenged about how Black you are/act/behave by other Black people – friends or strangers? These challenges will piss you off, hurt your feelings and lay you low.   Among the worse words a Black person can say to another Black person are “You ain’t black” or “You act white.”  These are fighting words.

 These insults are easily lobbed by Black people again other Black people who they perceive to be acting outside of the racial guidelines.  (I’ve been looking for my How to Be Black Guidebook – haven’t found it yet.)  I’ve uttered them once or twice (okay – maybe ten times) myself.  But when the words are said about your own behavior, when someone has accused you of not being Black, they are hard to take and difficult to challenge.

Having been a thrower, a receiver, and a witness to the impact of this judgment on others, I have come to this conclusion: the only thing any of us who are Black has to do to be Black is to be born Black. This is my final answer to the test questions on what makes one Black enough.

To quote the great poet, Langston Hughes, “You got to take me like I am Black and don’t give a damn.”
You, whoever you are, don’t get to decide :

If I’m Black Enough, woman enough, down enough or anything enough!

 Black is my birthright.  I was born Black.  I have walked Black through the world.  I wasn’t given a set of instructions at birth about how to be Black.  My ancestors fought so that I could try to live a life without limits and strictures on what, where and how I could blackly be.

 I have even written lyrics about this – sing it to the tune of They Can’t Take That Away from Me.*

 You Can’t Take Black Away from Me – by Candelaria Silva

 There are many crazy things
that I might do
And with your permission,
I’ll list a few.
The way I wear my hair…
(curly, kinky, straight, locked, braided or blonde – I’ll wear it any damn way I want to)

The way I sip my tea…
(I’ll drink tea, coffee, water or wine – my choice)
The memory of my past…
(Whether I’m haunted by it or celebratory of it)
 You can’t take Black away from me.

 The way I smile or frown.
The way I talk so free…
(King’s English or Ebonics)
The way I pursue my dreams
No, no you can’t take Black away from me.

We may never agree what I should be on this journey of life
But I’ll always be who I am, however I am.
No, no you can’t take Black away from me
No, you can’t take Black away from me-ee!

So stop the nonsense, people. Stop trying to box me and other folks of the black-brown persuasion.  Stopmaking pronouncements about my racial integrity based on snap judgments and your ever-shifting criteria. Nuff said?

 No?!  Well, let me make it plain:   You can’t take Black away from me

Not even if I like Girls or Justified ( or whatever other all-white show is happening at the moment.)
Or if I prefer Timberlake to Timbaland.
Not even if I like flip-flops, have freckles and dye my hair blonde.
Or even if I know all the lyrics to songs by Stevie Nicks (or Coldplay, etcera, etcetera).
Doesn’t matter if I can’t dance, wear Birkenstocks and eat tofu.
Not even if I date, love or marry a white guy or girl.
No matter my shade chocolate, cream, or caramel.
Doesn’t matter where I live – city, country or suburb.

 I’m Buh-lack and I’m going to be Buh-lack in whatever way I choose.  I may be boisterously Black, the only Black, a champion Black or passing through Black.  The Black in my DNA will show up and, living in America, it’s likely to blow up at some point or another.

 Just because I don’t “act Black” according to your standards or I hang out with non-Black folks…none of this means that I don’t love being Black. 

 (Side notes to White folks – you can’t take Black away from me by saying you don’t think of me as Black or by saying I’m not like “the other Blacks.”)

 No, no you can’t take Black away from me. No you can’t take Black away fr-om me-ee.

*Original lyrics to They Can’t Take That Away From Me were written by George and Ira Gershwin

The Day Beyonce Turned Black (about her Formation Video)


About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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