You Can’t Take Black Away from Me 9

I wrote the following post in 2007 but decided to post it after reading a post on  This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life titled Working With Back Women, Part 2: The Movie.

You Can’t Take Black Away From Me

Copyright 2007 by Candelaria N. Silva
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,

  • 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.  Stop making 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 Seinfeld or Ace of Cakes( 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




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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9 thoughts on “You Can’t Take Black Away from Me

  • Jim

    I’m with you. Nobody can tell me I’m not Black enough or too Black or White or anything at all. Anyone who wants to deal with me on that basis can just go suck eggs.

  • PPR_Scribe

    Oh–never mind–I found it! Great post. Obviously, I can relate. It feels nice to know that you are not alone. But it is my hope now that we can change this so that our own children do not have to go through the same nonsense.

  • Candelaria

    Thanks for reading this post.
    I think that people find ways to judge other people in all groups and tribes.  I’ve decided to challenge when I need to, give most people the benefit of the doubt, bathe my granddaughter in love and try to teach her resilience!

  • Anali

    Love this post! I definitely know how it feels to have to deal with the same stuff. *sigh* When will it end? And I love this song! It’s one of my favorites. I can hear Ella singing it now. : )

  • LeeAnn

    ummmm i’m laughing so hard :) You are fabulous….We are all so different and all so the same and I find it a real shame that we can’t laugh and truly rejoice in that. I mean, in a slightly different verse of the same song, I could write similar words…how come we can’t see and rejoice? makes me want to find you and give you a ridiculous and inappropriate hug for strangers and yet we are not.

  • Christina

    I love this post.

    When I was a kid, I know I used the “fighting words” without really understanding the implication of their meanings. At that time, society was conditioning me to believe that we had to meet requirements to truly be black. One had to come from a single parent home, speak in slang and always prove your blackness by how down you are for brothers and sisters, which ultimately meant that you couldn’t be down for anyone else.

    Growing up and becoming a person with not only a college education but a world education, the breadth of my thinking, perception and awareness of these falsehoods has grown into a better understanding of my own Blackness and what it means to me. Along that path, I started to realize that Blackness is what you make it. As such, I chose for my blackness to reflect my intelligence, cultural awareness, pride, etc. So when people tell me, “You speak white” I always respond with, “No I speak properly. Improper speech is not something I take pride in and won’t let it be synonymous with MY BLACKNESS.” I think statements like that resonate with people about the implication they just made with a simple statement. Why is speaking eloquently standard with whites, but specialized with blacks? Why do we feel that busing is suitable for better education? What happened to having good schools, in our own district? I’m always trying to ask the hanging questions and say the things that we’re all thinking but no one says.

    My coming of age and realization of how racially tense and segregated our city is happened when I went on Spring Break to Miami Beach. It was here that I saw everyone (blue, green, polka dot) party together. It was a new experience that left me flabbergasted. I had to explain to my friends that in Boston, we had strict lines that weren’t crossed and where certain ethnicities partied. We follow a very strict social rules that everyone followed because no one dared question it. I didn’t, until then. Since my epiphany, I have explored options that many call “white” or “not black”. I’ve even been told that “You’re the whitest black girl I know”. It makes me happy because that means my eclectic taste is perhaps sparking a fire in them to try new things, and let Blackness be unlimited and uninhibited, defined by everything your mind can imagine.

    Great post!

  • Candelaria

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful response!  As you write, “Blackness is what you make it.”  I would say further that Blackness can inform our humanity but it does not replace our humanity.  My husband has often been told “you ain’t black.”  And my son has heard those comments as well.  We’ve grown and we’ll let the doubters catch up to us.   Thanks, again!