Talking Book

Woe is the Man Who Does Not Know Who He Is


The more I think about the color problem, the more I realize I am in quite a peculiar dilemma. When I speak of colored folk, I do not quite see myself as one of them. Yet when I speak of white folk, I feel I cannot comfortably place myself among them either. I am, to white people, a black man, and in the outdated idea of the one drop rule I am most certainly black. I would have, if I’d had the most wretched luck, been enslaved in the South if I had been born and raised on a plantation. And yet, to my knowledge, none of my ancestors were ancestors. Yes, yes, it might sound absurd, but I’ll have you know that I have the privilege of tracing my ancestry back for 150 years, and none of my ancestors in that mighty long time have ever been enslaved. Then you might wonder how I got that eighth of blackness; I do not know, but it is there, and I am quite proud of it. If black folk want me and accept me as one of their own, then I shall humor them. See, I have not considered myself a man of color, but now, thrust into the spotlight of the literary world in a genre that seeks to reinforce and divide based on color, I realize that I must make a choice. Yes, a choice has, in some way, already been made for me, for I am seen as a man of color, a writer of color. But now it is up to me to embrace that colored-ness, to identify myself more with the Uncle Julius than the John. I must become authentic. I know there are many out there, especially white southerners, who would discount my voice because I am from the North, but ain’t I black too? By their own words, by their own definitions (definitions established, need I remind you, to benefit the (pure) white masters) I am black. Yet now that I embrace that blackness, now that I become what they want me to be, I am not authentic enough. Well, it matters not that I am a buckeye and what they consider authentic is only a yellowhammer. No, I am authentic, I am genuine. These white southerners cannot take that from me now.

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