The Real Identity Thieves

I generally think of myself as human.  After that, I think of myself as an American.  When pushed to describe myself, I declare that I'm black.  I am not about identity politics, but I am happily black.

Despite what liberals may say about me, I can't imagine, nor have I ever imagined, being anything other than black.  I have imagined myself in other ways, like taller, thinner, more muscular, better hair (during my hair days, of course), and so on.  But I never wanted to be anything other than black.  To change that would be to change me.

I grew up in the country on a big cattle ranch -- not the best place to learn how to be black, even though black people were among the first cowboys.  Despite that great heritage, by the standards of the day, I was at a huge disadvantage.  I did note that other blacks seemed to be "more black" than I, but it wasn't their color I'm talking about; it was their attitude.

You learned to be black in the city, not the country.  My family visited relatives in the city, so I learned how to be black on the weekends -- a part-timer, I guess.  By the time I was ten, I had been conditioned to understand what being black meant -- authentically black, that is.

Being "authentically black" required certain things.  For example, authentically black people walked "cool."  I used to practice walking cool, which was to not walk "white."  To walk white was to walk with an even gait.  The authentically black male "strutted."  He might even hold his "package," making his walk even cooler.  If he swung the other arm from side to side, that was the pinnacle of the cool -- the authentically black walk of my day.

Black people also talked cool, not "white."  We didn't hold to the convention of the "white man's" language, and in fact, the less whites understood, the better.

Black people dressed cool.  Think Rollo of Sanford and Son or Huggy Bear of Starsky and Hutch.  Go look at any 1970s footage of a big sporting event, particularly a Muhammad Ali boxing match and look at how the authentically black dressed.  We were style mavens, to say the least.

I mentioned in my book when my estranged father sent my brother and me some "authentically black" clothes from Flagg Brothers.  Not only did I wear mine, but I couldn't wait to inherit my older brother's clothes when he outgrew them.  I wore my hand-me-downs way past their "style date."

Sadly, the only things that might have qualified me to be authentically black during my childhood were that both my parents were black and that I grew up poor.  Now that I think about it, maybe there was more...

I was very good at "bones" (dominoes), and I often played them with the authentically black people I knew who played dominoes in their front yards.  Some authentically black people I know "threw rocks" (shot dice) on their front porches.  I didn't, because I wasn't very good at dice, and I was constantly broke, anyway.

The authentically black could dance, too.  I used to love to watch Soul Train, so I could practice my moves.  Remember the Robot and "locking up"?  I wanted to know how to outdance anybody -- anytime, anywhere -- should a dance battle break out.

In my mind's eye, I could see me winning the dance-off.  I would strut out of the disco in my fine rags, get into my Cadillac, and head back to my pad with the loveliest ladies in the joint.  I imagined myself as the coolest-walking, coolest-talking, baddest-dancing dude on the planet.  That would make me one authentically black dude, like the black rappers of today.

I loved the authentically black experience, but there were echoes of something else.  As much as I loved those ideas of "coolness," I was never going to be "the coolest" and most authentically black.  My environment wouldn't allow it.  I was forced to outgrow the notion of "blackness," and I had to expand my thinking.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to concern myself just with being a human who happened to be black.

As I matured, what I noticed was that my authentically black brothers and sisters in many cases appeared to be stuck.  Everything they did had to be "authentically black."  They listened only to "authentically black" music and ridiculed blacks who stepped outside that line -- people like country and western singer Charlie Pride, for example.

Talk about a mind-blowing experience for me when I heard Aerosmith screaming, "Walk this this way...just give me a kiss," and that guitar rift kicked in.  My body was electrified.  I was jamming like I was listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire.  Who were these white boys called Aerosmith?!

It hit me: I liked some "white" music, too!  How is that possible?  I'm black!

I would have other cathartic moments, like when I watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance.  I stood in utter amazement at the possibilities of the human form.  The beauty, the grace.  I still appreciated "authentically black" dance, but Baryshnikov took me to another level; he expanded my mind, which was never to return to its original shape.

Golf, snow skiing, water-skiing, horseback riding, tennis, fashion -- my list of "white" things to do or try grew routinely.  All these contradictions.  Things I now loved were far from being authentically black and in fact, I suggest, were white.  Was I abandoning the little blackness that I had?

I learned over time that I hadn't abandoned my "blackness"; I had enhanced it.  I had evolved as a human.  My epiphany was learning that being authentically black is simply being authentically you.

No race owns any idea or invention.  Music is music, colorless and owned by no one culture.  The same is true of dance.  Life is an experience to be enjoyed by all, and experience has no color, gender, religion, or anything else.  Experience is a void, waiting for a human to fill it.  Experience has no bias on race or other factor.  Experience wants what it wants, no matter the source.

Identity politics is a useless convention.  Whoever determines what makes something authentic can make you whatever he wants you to be.  Such people are the real identity thieves.

God gave me the ability to choose. I choose to be me.

That's my rant.