I had an interesting conversation with an African American man last night that I feel would be beneficial to share. I was hanging out with my friends in a house in Nashville, and his grandma is the next door neighbor. He visits her from time to time, and when he does he always goes next door to hang out with the college kids. When I saw him and didn’t recognize him, I asked for his name. He told me his name was Cory and that he was from LA, but born and raised in Nashville. Around 30 minutes went by before he jokingly said that he was “the honorary and only black member of the fraternity”. I told him that we in fact have two black kids in the fraternity, and he was not the only one. He then said that “they’re not really black. The environment that they grew up in and live in now is not black”, before saying that he was really black. This was intriguing to me, and raised a few questions in my mind. Is blackness just a part of one’s environment? If I were to grow up and live the same life as he did, I would still not be considered black. So what qualifies blackness? Just because two black kids grew up in a more well off environment and are now successful Vanderbilt students does not erase their race and culture. He was associating Whiteness with money and education, and because the two black kids were entrenched in that culture he did not consider them black.
This reminds me a lot of the many themes that we touched on while reading Quicksand. Helga was of mixed race, and did not feel like she belonged anywhere due to this. She had a difficult time fitting in with white folk as she was looked at as a prized possession, and did not feel comfortable around black folk because she felt she’d be ostracized if they discovered her white ancestry. I wonder if this is how the two black kids in my fraternity feel. Perhaps they don’t feel 100% comfortable around a mostly white population, but also feel like an outsider to the black community because of their upbringing. Whatever the case, we all have to do everything we can to make everyone feel comfortable no matter what environment they’re in.