Not Enough

In Opinion - theirs and mine on August 10, 2010 at 2:34 am

“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” ~Franklin Thomas

I grew up in a rather small, rather white town in Upstate New York. One of those towns where everyone knew their neighbors business. You saw your teachers in the grocery store (you guys, teachers have lives outside of school!) and So and So’s mom would tell your mom if she saw you out past 11. That kind of town. Given the demographics it should come as no surprise that I was the odd girl out. I always hoped no one would notice but of course they did. Those moments when my peers would point out the color of my skin as if to remind me. Thanks, friends, for keeping me in check. It was the nothing that was often something and it made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I oscillated between groups; one who thought I was too black and the others who thought I wasn’t black enough. 15 is hard enough. One need not make it worse.

College was easier and even my first jobs were a breeze. I lived in DC and let’s gloss over the fact that I ended up in DC months before my classmates so that I could be in a “special” summer program for the brown and black students. It was chocolate city! Later my coworkers and I were our little melting pot striving for progressive politics and policies across the country. And then I moved back to Albany.

There’s something to be said for being the Only One. Not in a precious way but I often observed and continue to notice three years later that I am often the only one who looks like me in the room. I am a black, female working in politics. There aren’t that many of me hanging out in Upstate NY but, you know, I take it in stride. In the beginning it was a shock and as I would peer around a room during a fundraiser I’d get a jolt when I realized that there were no other black people there. Let alone women. But that jolt forced me to stand up straighter and taller and to fix my hair and make sure my makeup wasn’t running. I would check my shoes and fix the collar on my shirt because in someone’s eyes I was there to represent my people. Whomever those people might be.

Here’s the thing; I own a mirror and every single morning I wake up and look in that mirror. I put on my make up and wash off the residue on my hands from my foundation which leaves a brown smudge on a formerly pristine towel. I know what color I am. Most black people, brown people, whatever color people realize their color and don’t need to be reminded of such. And we certainly need not be told that we are not doing enough to prove to the masses that we are in fact whatever color we are.

Which brings me to this morning and Maureen Dowd and the New York Times. And if you looked up “liberal elitism” in the dictionary – scratch that – in Urban Dictionary there would be the New York Times logo. The New York Times which is here to show us poor colored folks that if we did things differently then maybe we would be better at being a person of color. I thank them for that. When someone pointed out Dowd’s opinion piece this morning I was hurt and in a second I was hurled back to a feeling one where no matter what I do and how hard I try in someone’s eyes I would not be good enough. There would always be someone to say that I wasn’t being black in the proper way. I had an entire adolescence full of teenagers who presented me with the same argument. So what on Earth was I thinking when I thought that adults could look past such trivial matters. Furthermore she was, in part, correct. The Shirley Sherrod situation – Sherrodgate – was handled poorly on all sides. But instead of calling out Tom Vilsack – who apparently makes an excellent white guy from Iowa – she calls out the President. Because Barack Obama isn’t aware enough of his blackness. In fact, according to Ms. Dowd, he kind of sucks at being black and he should probably have a Czar of Blackness in his inner-circle. You know, someone who plays Jay-Z on repeat in the Oval Office. That that was Maureen Dowd’s takeaway on a situation that was a shit show from jump street makes me embarrassed for her and the paper she writes for.

After reading her piece, I went to a fundraiser in Saratoga. There I stood in a room full of people and was the youngest person there and also the darkest. I hadn’t had a wave of self-consciousness like that in ages. Were they looking at me? When they saw me did they only see race? Did they wonder why I was there and who I knew or why I would be invited? Was I good enough to be there?

Instead of enjoying myself and working as I was supposed to do, I have gone through the entire day overly aware of myself. I’ve spent all of today questioning myself and whether I am good enough for certain people. It’s 2010 and I am walking on eggshells because of Maureen fucking Dowd. Overly worried about my race. Like high school; politics is bad enough. One need not make it worse. And yet there are people in the world and there will always be people in the world who do.


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