By: Richard Lucas III @iOverDress
Let me begin by stating the obvious, Rachel Dolezal was absolutely wrong. Being born African American is not a choice.
Nevertheless, the task of identifying oneself as "black" is an entirely different conversation. Rachel chose to mask her true identity by hiding behind thinly veiled stereotypes of "blackness". Natural or kinky curls, bronze skin, slang vernacular, a HBCU education are all apart of some African Americans' experience. But by no means do the aforementioned cultural characteristics define what it means to be black. I would suggest the amount of melanin in one's skin does not even qualify one as black. The definition of being black is identifying oneself with the marginalized, stigmatized and oppressed of our society and then fighting against the systems that oppress them. That is what Rachel got right about race. Being black is not a birthright. It seems all too often, we as a people, bask in the glory of black culture without taking up the burden of blackness.
That is why we have historically "black" colleges that refuse to translate academics in the classroom to advocacy in our community. This why we have "black" churches that are more concerned with pretentious personal piety than the plight of our people. This is why we have "black" artists consumed with pimping the drug culture that has ravaged our neighborhoods and prostituting the backside of our women; women who are the backbone of our neighborhoods. This is why we have a "black" middle class that idolizes their economic exclusivity from the majority of their race and hides behind the white picket fences of social passivity from the issues of their race. We worship the crown of black culture, but ignore the cross. Mimicking some black customs is cooler than ever (Kardashians, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus) but being black, even among African Americans has never been popular. As we approach the dawn of the Millennial Movement, we cannot believe everyone who shares our color, share our concern. We cannot just reverence our traditions of black life without taking on the responsibility of black justice. Being black is less about the skin and more about the soul. Being black is less about the melanin and more about the movement.
This is not to minimize the struggle of simply having skin kissed by the sun. There are many recent stories and statistics that serve as evidence that the color of ones skin in America is still a determining factor of their life's trajectory. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Samuel Dubose were all killed simply for being African American. The color of their skin warranted unjust fear and suspicion that resulted in violence. We should be outraged and demand justice. But, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton were not killed for just being African American. They submitted their very lives to fight against oppression, injustice and discrimination. THEIR passion and commitment to their people were their death warrants. The country, largely, has no problem when we are content with BEING African Americans - content with just going to college and getting a good job. Content with keeping our head down and minding our business. Content with us silently and idly going through the routine of life. But when we ever decide to be black and speak up and speak out against the hypocrisy of America we have signed up for persecution. Being born African American is a matter of divine destiny from our creator. But being black is a conscious decision we must make every day.
Richard Lucas III is a rising senior at Bowie State University where he double majors in History and Government. Currently, he serves as the Student Government Association President while continuing to pursue his passion in social justice and education.