The first time I “realized” I was black, or rather, my first realization that my skin carried connotations was complicated. It was some point in middle school. I walked up to a group of boys in a circle telling jokes one after the other.
One of them told an extremely racist joke, and everyone laughed, but me.
I remember asking him why he would tell that joke at all, especially with me standing right there.
He said, “I don’t mean you. You aren’t like ‘the others,’ you aren’t really Black.”
This was the first of countless moments when a white person has attempted to inform me of what Black is and isn’t. What it can be, and what it cannot. That not only did my intelligence, eloquence, successes, demeanor, and the occasionally missed jump shot somehow disprove and betray my Blackness, but that this should be something I took pride in. That all the positive about me was an anomaly; an exception to the rule, and this was somehow a compliment. That though I am likely one of very few Black men they’ve ever had a face-to-face conversation with, their imaginations of us are more real than the actual Black man standing in front of them.
When I ‘realized I was Black’, I realized that we share a common space and time, but still different worlds and realities. I realized not just that my skin made people think differently of me in the core of their being, but also that nothing any of us do can change it. There will always be people blinded by their mistaken belief that Black is one thing, because the truth is too much for them to handle. The truth that Black is Anything, and Black is Everything.