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Melanie Coffee Headshot

I'm Black Enough

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"You're one of the clean black people, so my grandma says it's OK if I play with you," my childhood friend said to me.

What did that mean, "clean black people?" Are some of us dirty? I knew her comment was an insult, but my 7-year-old mind tied itself into knots trying to figure out a response. I had none. I just said "Oh" and we started playing with my Barbies.

I hate the notion that some of us black folks come with an asterisk. I'm black, but (asterisk) I love Guns N' Roses. I'm black, but (asterisk) I can watch Professional Bull Riding for hours. I'm black but (asterisk) I'm still looking for someone to teach me how to Dougie.

We've all heard the code words for this asterisk mentality. Articulate. Proper. Uppity. Wannabe. Bourgie. And according to my friend's grandma: Clean.

In my last BlackVoices piece, I was amused by the people who questioned my blackness. I'm married to a white man, have two caramel-colored babies and trust me, I am black.

The asterisk mentality comes from both whites and blacks. When whites say: "You're not like most black people," it's offensive and really what they're saying is that you don't fit my stereotype of a black person.

When you meet a white guy from New York City, are you ever surprised that he's nothing like the guys from Appalachia? ... Yeah, that's what I thought.

And then there are the black people who say someone isn't black enough. What is "black enough?" Is it a girl with "extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings, at least two pair?" I'm honestly more offended at that sentiment than the one from whites, it's like et tu, Brute?

I remember in 7th grade I used the word "misrepresentation" in a conversation with a girl who was super popular in the black crowd. She scowled and asked why do I always have to use such big words. I told her that I didn't think that it was that big. (The smart-alec in me wanted to point out that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was truly a big word, but I decided to stay mum.) We ended the discussion there, but enough had been implied. Clearly, I "talked white."

A lot of us have similar stories of growing up and trying to figure out where we fit in. But the "black enough" notion or asterisk mentality follows us into adulthood, which is absurd. African Americans are not a monolithic group, and that's a good thing. Accept it, broaden your horizons, and move on.

So yes, I'm "articulate and bright and clean" and I'm Black enough.

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