This is a question I have struggled with since childhood. I was a nerdy Black kid from the Bronx with a speech impediment and an anxiety disorder who grew up to become a nerdy queer trans-masculine Black atheist psychotherapist with a speech impediment and an anxiety disorder. I’ve always felt out of place. I didn’t fit in with White people because I was entirely too Black and I didn’t fit in with Black people because internalized racism and maladaptive survival skills have led many Black people to believe there was only one way to be Black. And I definitely didn’t fit into the mold.
At first, I blamed my fellow Black people. I couldn’t see the systemic oppression forest for the trees and I decided that if it was not authentically Black to listen to Nine Inch Nails and watch psychological documentaries for fun, than I didn’t want to be Black at all. I stopped speaking AAVE (African-American Vernacular English aka “how we talk to family and friends” for those who don’t know) in favor of “proper Standard” English and, with a few exceptions, kept my distance from Black people throughout my adolescence. It wasn’t until my early twenties, when the wool fell from my eyes, that I began to look past the trees and see systemic oppression and the vestiges of slavery and colonization for what they are. I started speaking AAVE again and I began the process of loving myself at every intersection of my identity. What makes me Black is not the superficial stereotypes created to trap us nor is it the respectability politics that our predecessors hoped would save us. No. Being Black enough is recognizing that Blackness is a spectrum, loving your piece of this spectrum for who you are, and doing the same for others.
In these trying times, we can’t waste time adhering to respectability politics or rigid standards of what Black people can and cannot do or be. We need solidarity..
regardless of our differences in complexion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, beliefs, etc. Now is not the time to question and police each other on who is Black enough. Unconditional unity and respect is the only path to liberation.