What Does It Mean To Be Black 2011: Summit Verse Three

Continuing our four post series( part one, part two can be found at their respective links), What Does It Mean To Be Black 2011, our Summit brother from the Clutchmag team, @Zqclay provides our third verse…

A long time ago, before I even “knew” I was Black, pictures flooded my house. Colorful pictures. Eclectic sculptures. Village shots. Monochromatic canvases were disallowed; the full spectrum was always on display. Every day I walked passed these works of art.

I can’t pinpoint the moment I realized the pictures I saw on a daily basis had its inspiration from Africa. And it took me to ’til my teens to realize that the dark sculpture I passed by everyday was a Black Jesus. I imagine between the moments of subliminal effect and conscious realization was when I was actually human, as supposed to be being Black.

Which always led me to this neuron-firing, if not noxious, question.

Defining “Blackness” is quantifying limitations and expansiveness at the same time. Limitations seem easier to place dimensions on and by stating a limitation of the “Black” experience, I am at the same time acknowledging strength inherent.


For every horror story about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, we learn how mothers withstood massive physical toll to protect their children. For every story about whips and rape, we learn about Harriet Tubman and Henry “Box” Brown and Denmark Vessey.

By saying that I come from a lineage of “oppressed” people who were proud scholars despite growing up in a milieu that discouraged it, I am also saying that I’m a product of the full human experience. But then, defining the human experience is problematic.

Aren’t we humans merely by being? Why do we have to go through something to be human? To place these criteria on ourselves and others lead to a continual state of comparing and critique, which means we can’t just…be.


Before I can be, I have to be “Black?” Disconcerting stuff.


Being Black isn’t a flip side of being White, Hispanic, or whatever fusillade of terms scientists and eugenicists come up with to box and ultimately control the “human” masses. Stripping “Blackness” to a phenotype or common behavior pattern is fulfill the ideals of Ms. Sanger, Rockefeller, Mr. Gates and many names that history failed to place in front of me.


In this Matrix, I’m a Black man, and even by this caged standard, the definition evolves every day. Once upon a time, Blackness was sequestered from mainstream media in a more-than-covert- way; now, Blackness is sold to us every day in nearly every venue. Politics, music, food, books. One could even argue Oprah too (haha, I couldn’t resist).

Jest aside, Blackness is infinite even if it hasn’t reached infinity yet. Then again, infinity never reaches infinity, which is why it’s infinity.

There is another component of “Blackness” that African-Americans – in my opinion – don’t properly deal with. We are also the descendants of Europeans. It’s in my bloodline. We could deny it and minimize it with incessant rhetoric and Assata and Huey, but at the end of the day, it’s there. We’re here. And to be honest I’m still not sure how to deal with that, for the thought of me being here due to coercion (or worse, rape) is a bit unsettling.

As I fire this piece off, Eric B. and Rakim’s “Check My Melody” blasts in the background. I could wax philosophical about “Blackness” in the abstract all day long, but what does mean to Aiyana Jones and Oscar Grant?

Or to the brother denied an opportunity to provide for his family because of traits he can’t control (name, skin color, nose size)? This isn’t to marginalize those being harangued while not Black. We are all constantly fed a narrative of Black oppression and White privilege and Hispanic illegality and Asian brilliance and ruthlessness, reinforcing not-so-subtle messages that we can only get so far.

Yet anybody who has lived long enough has seen a Black person take on any one of those traits. Same for Whites, Hispanics and Asians. Instead of embracing the complex narrative, my people buy the monolithic one. “My people” being my people: collateral damage in an ongoing war of people manipulation, faux compassion, false charity and conditional love.

As for my overflowing optimism, you’re welcome.

So what is being “Black?” Under a year ago, for this same venue, I grappled with this question. Here was the intro to that piece:

Sitting here pondering on this question with Outkast’s E.T. blaring in the background, I am burdened by the futility of finding an answer. I wrote a piece over two years ago about what it’s like being a black man in America. I was 22.

I’m just as pensive now as I was then. I am just as weighed by my experience now as I was then. It’ll be like this until I’m the culinary delight of terrestrial worms.

How do you explain something so innate, so embedded, so….you?

I’m 25 now. I’m no longer weighed by my experience; if anything, I’m levitated by it. I see the burdens of people who look like me every day. I also see people who look like me achieving a level of self-mastery and discipline that would make a monk envious.

Nobody has a monopoly on the Black experience. Some would claim they do (see the way “Uncle Tom” and “House Negro” is thrown around among the “conscious?”), but they only have a shard of it. The Summit features brothers from different walks of life. We share a similar affinity for scholarship and cognition. We’re not above a crude sexual joke or two. And we get pissed and fire off salvos when provoked sometimes.

Nationalism has its unifying factors, but nothing beats the human bond. Since I was 18, I’ve spent most of my professional environment in the presence of “other” cultures. I could spend the next 30 years of my life in Bismark, North Dakota. My Blackness wouldn’t be abated.

As we grow, we become the architects of our experiences. Whatever “Blackness” is, is already written. And we are the authors, which is a fact not lost among members of the Summit.