Sunday, 9 March 2014

White Boy In Black Skin

It doesn’t take people longer than five minutes in conversation with me to say the words, “You’re such a white boy”. With a simple roll of my eyes and shake of my head I brush it off and proceed with my life, not really bothered by what was just said because the truth is I know what they mean…and there is an element of truth in it.

What is confusing for me is how certain things I do are associated with skin color: for example, aesthetical order, the way I’d treat a lady and things I would say. Growing up I had never thought of differences in skin color and how that would relate to how people act. In my eyes everyone around me was the same as me. I was color blind and I’m not saying that was a bad thing at all.

Looking back now I have a clearer picture of why people have referred to me as a “white boy in black skin” (or an Oreo) and why I acted the part so well.

1.)    I’m from Pretoria. If you don’t know much about Pretoria, you should know that it has a very high population of white people. I grew up in an area that was predominantly white and for a while my family was one of the very few black families living in that area. So I grew up in this type of racial setup which meant my friends were mostly white, my teachers were white, and my neighbors were white (by the way, the complex I stayed in was painted white and the color of my school shirt was white too, but that’s not the point).

2.)    My parents raised me as me. My parents never brought up the issue of color in relation to how I should behave or do things and they never forced my black ethnicity on me. They didn’t see the paradox of black and white and raised me that way.

3.)    I wanted to be white. This is a heavy point because it’s almost shocking but I believe there were a few reasons for this:

a)      I wasn’t proud of the fact that I looked different from others around me but I’d only notice we were different when they brought it up.

b)      In the community I grew up in black meant bad. If there was a black guy walking the streets the assumption was that he was a thief or some sort of criminal. If I was walking with some white friends we would be cautious of the black people that walked past us or wouldn’t walk past them at all: true stories.

I can recall an incident that would amplify my point. So one day my brother had a friend over from school and they were playing outside, close to the front gate, when a stranger (who was white) came to the fence and started talking to the boys. My mom quickly noticed the situation and called the two little boys inside and asked them what the man had wanted (I’m not sure what answer they gave her).  She then cautioned them to be careful and not talk to strangers because they could be dangerous but then my brother’s friend with a confused expression on his face said, “But this guy was white.”

c)       The color peach was called ‘skin color’. This is no joke: when we would draw with our colored pencils and wanted to borrow the color peach from a friend we would ask for ‘skin color’. I must have thought that being white was the right skin color to have because it was insinuated in these situations.

d)      I liked white girls and was rarely attracted to any other kinds of girls. In my mind I thought I would marry a white girl. However, very few white girls wanted to go out with black boys (maybe because they never considered it an option). I remember liking this one girl (actually a lot of guys liked her) and one day her brother came to me and said that his mom had said that things go wrong when black people and white people get married. In that moment, I wished I was white.

4.)    I didn’t like black.

I will never forget one incident as a kid with my good friend Josh. We were playing an imaginary war game (if you never played imaginary games by yourself or with friends it’s not too late to do so now) and then suddenly Josh turns to me and says, “You do know that you’re a black guy in this game, right?” and I was shocked and got so upset with him because in my mind I pictured myself as a white soldier (maybe because I thought black soldiers sucked). It felt like a demeaning role, like he wanted me to be the bad guy (and of course we had to be heroes). My buddy Josh was actually being good to me; he wanted me to be who I am. I didn’t see it like that at the time but I sure wish I did.

I try to think of how all this has influenced me today and how I’ve changed and grown. I’m an adult now but my childhood was a step I had to take to get to where I am today and my experiences in the past will always go with me. I’ve lived with different kinds of people with different cultures and different colors of skin, and I believe my views on people now are influenced by the different people I’ve met in the past. And I’ve learnt that experiences in the past may have occurred in the past but the lessons are sometimes learnt much later in life.
Eventually my family left the beautiful city of Pretoria and moved to another city, Lusaka. Much like Pretoria it’s a capital city, but unlike Pretoria it has an overwhelming number of black people. When I first arrived in Lusaka I felt out of place because it was so weird seeing so many black people and I felt everybody was staring at me because I ‘looked different’.

Now what’s interesting is that Lusaka has its own views on race, white people and ethnicity. It’s when I arrived in Lusaka that I got a lot of comments about being a white boy. Some people have their own ideas of what white people do or don’t do and have their own ideas about what black means. The truth is I find most of it annoying, ignorant and prejudiced. What black America promotes blackness to be is what I hear a lot from people: it’s all built on stereotypes and Kevin Hart jokes. Having heavily interacted with both black and white people it’s clear that both camps don’t know much about each other and even themselves.

So having been higher up the mountain (than I was before) and given you a description of what was below me, let me tell you at what point I am now:

1.)    I love my color. I love who I am and how God created me (seriously I do!).

2.)    People recognized me as black when I started to rap a few years ago and the whole ‘white boy’ thing started to fade away (not completely).
3.)    Traditional people think I’m uncultured (Hey, it’s not my fault I’m a white guy…).

4.)    I don’t act like any color; I’m just me.

5.)    I love Trevor Noah’s shows. He and I are similar in some ways and he just captures cultural diversity so well.

6.)     I love colored people (those of you in America, that’s the color of your president: yep, unfortunately he’s not black; and yes, it’s okay to call someone colored where I come from. No, really; it is).

7.)    I love diversity in culture. I love relating and meeting people from everywhere.

8.)    I’m grateful for some of the things I’ve been through in life.

9.)    I still have a lot of white friends that I get along with.

10.)  I also have a lot of black friends (and Koreans, Indians, Latinos, etc.).

11.)  And finally, I’m still and will always be color blind.

Knowing who you are is important, but the color of your skin doesn’t define your character or personality and it won’t define your likes and dislikes or spell out what you can or can’t do. For example, I love cricket and rugby, and those are seen as white sports; but I love soccer and basketball too (‘black’ sports). Be proud of how God made you; be proud to be a black swimmer or a white runner or whatever you wanna be. Don’t let your color dictate how you view yourself and how you view others. And don’t let your upbringing corrupt the right way to view the world, always view it the way the Creator wants you to view it and His people. I may always be an Oreo, but I’m not going to let that define me; I won’t.

But you know, being an Oreo taught me this. Think about it.

Lenny Kay

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