Nothing could make you less black.
Or more black.
There are no quantities to blackness.
Your blackness makes you black
That’s all there is.
Your experience of blackness is blackness
It is all you ever need.
You looking back on your life
Knowing you are black
Knowing your ancestors were black
Knowing you have a genetic ancestral link to those subjugated for being black
For having a black body
From having this particular ancestry
Experiencing your life with this knowledge
This is blackness
That’s all there is to it.
It is important to remember that we are affected by our bodies; that our bodies in part determine how we (are allowed to) move through this world; and that we are forced to relate our bodies to other bodies that are most physically similar. This force is not simply a ‘natural’ one, but is almost always socially constructed and socially coerced.
Representations of the bodies that can be, or are meant to be, read as black leaves impressions on those with this body, or similar bodies. Blackness is in part about this particular relation, between black people’s perception of their own bodies, including those that aren’t quickly read as black, and their knowledge of the ‘black body’ present only and always in the white imaginary.
Our bodies become incredibly salient when we come to blackness.
Some of us have similar bodies to the ‘black body’: that one with the Negro nose, 4c hair, full lips that Kylie Jenner would mutilate herself for, and skin darker than Pantone 59-4 C. We are affected particularly for this. Our blackness can never be denied, or removed from, us. Our blackness speaks for itself. Even when we are not conscious of it, we are affected by this bodily similarity.
I think those of us who become conscious of our bodies and its blackness can never separate ourselves from blackness. It becomes inconceivable. We will always be read as black and there is no escaping from it. There is nowhere we can turn, no other we can become, no aspect of ourselves we could ever imagine to take refuge in.
It must be said then, that those with bodies similar to the black body, in possession of ‘Bantu features’, who deny their blackness are casting an illusion upon themselves, a different illusion that I have cast upon myself I guess. Either that, or they are in a context where blackness is not read off their bodies; in a context where a narrower set of features that are legible as black than elsewhere in the world, than a place like London. (the racial categories that are in use in these contexts are arranged so as to pinpoint a person’s proximity to African-ness/Blackness via their ancestry, and/or are separated by skin tone which is used to determine proximity to Blackness/African-ness.
Racial categories are not neutral or natural. They exist on a hierarchy. It is important I think, to know why individuals choose to identify with the boxes supplied by this categorisational logic; the extent to which agency is involved in this choosing and what kind of agency; and why they dis-identify.
As I’ve tried to make clear above, the possession of a body that is similar to the ‘black body’ that comes from the white imaginary, as well as the knowledge of one’s African ancestry (and not in the sense that humanity is descended from Africa) inevitably result in the formation of blackness. For those with undeniably black bodies, identification with a racial category you are always told you are would seem inevitable.
Our bodies are marked out by racial categorisation for our easy subjugation
Dis-identification from blackness, with regards to those who are read as black, with bodies similar to the ‘black body’, and in Western contexts, I find is usually down to anti-blackness. Especially in contexts where ‘black’ describes a broad range of physical features and having only a few of these features results in that body being read as black. As opposed to situations where one can only be black if their skin is darker than a deep ochre.
Identifying your body as a black body means identifying it as a body constantly under attack. And the first means of counteracting this is to love it. You must love all that makes this body black. You must learn to re-love your body, your black body. And you must learn to love your blackness. You must learn to love your body despite the anti-blackness of this world (this journey is harder for the darkest people). You carve out reality to create space for you to love your blackness. It is healing. It is protective. You learn to love your colour, your black features. The features that are so salient and visible for you because you live in a world, a system of symbols, that targets those with these particular features.
This is inseparable from blackness. No matter the proximity to the black body, these experiences of visceral anti-blackness (determined by physical bodily features) I describe above must be salient in black people’s conceptions of their blackness. And not only because it takes one away from Afro-centric conceptions of blackness (sub-Saharan africans are not the only people with bodies that can be read as black). Black people with bodies far in proximity to the ‘black body’ should always remember, when having that inner conversation that constitutes blackness, that
We bear the brunt of anti-blackness. Our blackness is always visible, even in spite of our efforts to deny it.
The concept of anti-blackness would be severely diminished if we were to throw these experiences aside as simple ‘essentialist notions of race and blackness’. It affects us so viscerally and constantly, it makes us hate ourselves even before we know we are black. We are forced to operate upon this essentialist ground because our bodies bind us to it.
My body is a black body but also a body.
The identification of non-black people, i.e. those with bodies far in similarity to the black body, with blackness usually leaves me feeling uncomfortable. It is, generally, not a political alignment, but an appropriative gesture. This is some of the reasons why I am defensive and apprehensive when I hear about or meet these people. They can, if so willing, discard their identification as black and find affirmation, straight away, as not-black. It will never be possible for me to do so under the current racial paradigm. Nor would I want to, precisely because of the political implications of identifying as black; the joy and freedom that comes with it; and the love I had to (re-)build for myself through this identification. These things I share with all who identify as black. I do not share the inescapability of blackness with all black people, only some.
Blackness is all-consuming.
But I’ve learnt that this drowning and suffocating within blackness is the inception of a beautiful transformation.
But blackness is liberatory. Blackness is radical.
Image credit: BBDC (Black Boys Don’t Cry) – iggyldn