I was frantically looking for something else when I stumbled upon a relic from my much younger life. I must've been 25 or 26 years old and as you can tell from the badge, I was "too black, too strong."
What a joke. Of course I really believed it at the time. As a matter of fact I got that necklace at a Public Enemy concert in Los Angeles so I had to be "black." When I think about it, there were quite a few "white" people there too so I guess that should've let me know that it takes more than going to a Public Enemy concert to adorn the label "black." Beyond that concert attendance as an attribution of "blackness," I figuratively and literally checked all of the boxes for "blackness." In college I joined a "black" fraternity, I went to a "black" church on Sundays on the "black" side of town in Denton, TX. I sang in the "black" gospel choir on campus and though I had friends of other colors, I hung out with my own kind, "blacks." Though I participated in a world with others, I was creating my world of "black."
Making Me Black
I now understand that society/culture made me "black" and of course I thought I had to be so I submitted to their label. I accepted the label as a young child and then began to self-identify accordingly through my high school and college years. I was in my mind "black." As I grew older and smarter, I began to question the proposition that my existence, my humanity, could be summed up by one word depicting the color of my skin, "black." While in the Marine Corps, I got a review from a senior officer who said to me, "you're the best black officer I've ever seen." As a young "black" man, I wasn't sure how to take that and it was many years later when I realized, I don't want to be a good "black" officer. I want to be a "good" officer. Many years later near the end of my Marine Corps career, I sat in a Pentagon briefing and one day realized that I was the only person in the room with brown skin and it didn't matter and in fact, this had been going on for some time now and I no longer saw myself as "black." I had become what I hoped to be, a man, a human being exhibiting and giving his best to every institution and organization to which he belonged.
Why do we assign labels?
"It's really just lazy. We assign labels to groups of people because then we won't have to take the time to really know the individual. It's easier for me if I can just group all "black" people a certain way or all "white" people a certain way. I can then act as if I know the individuals, but of course that doesn't work.
"Black" and "white" are poor identity propositions. Skin color carries no intrinsic value as an identity, but we've been groomed by society and culture to believe that skin color alone is a characteristic by which we can determine a person's worth or lack thereof. I'm not valuable because I'm "black." I'm valuable because I make myself of value and ultimately, have been made of value by virtue of birth. Every soul is valuable and that without regard to physical characteristics.
Today, whatever the hue of your skin, you are so much more than that. Not only is that true of you, but it is equally
true of those around you. Value everyone for who they are and know that we are all of an inestimable value as members of mankind and you are not "black" or "white." You are a living, breathing, human being that yearns to be known and not simply labeled.