Not Authentically Black: Black Card Rejected

A moment of honesty and reflection on self-struggle over Black identity or feeling authentically “Black enough”…
I love European and USAmerican classical music from 18th to early 20th century. I’d say 99% of the composers of Classical music I have enjoyed are by white men. I feel incredibly joyful and amazed when I listen to this genre of music. Right now I’m listening to Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland and all I can think of is its pure genius. This is one of my all time favorites. Most of my childhood and adult life I kept my love for this a secret, often ashamed that I am well versed as a listener and as a musician (at least early on in my life as a violinist, pianist, and clarinetist who dreamed of becoming an opera singer) when it comes to classical music over rap and hip hop/soul. I kept this secret because I thought it somehow revoked my Blackness. I know intellectually that Black identities are not monolithic, but I tended to have shame around revealing this love depending on what circles I was in– especially when I was in college.
Most recently, I have been written by a fan who displayed disappointment that the Black women she read about in Sistah Vegan didn’t seem “Black enough” because they didn’t display the stereotypical “Black vernacular” and were “articulate”. Even though this is just one fan (who is a woman of color but not Black identified), it reminds me of the complexities of identity in the USA (and beyond) when it comes to how we are read racially, what is expected by others, but also what is often falsely expected of ourselves. I was disappointed by her assessment of my book– particularly because there is no monolithic Black experience and that all Black experiences and the way they are communicated (whether the King’s English or Arabic) are “valid” depictions of singular Black lives…
What does it mean to be “authentically” Black? What does it mean that I have no problem increasing the volume to The Roots or Lauryn Hill in my car with the windows down, but would not dare do the same with Aaron Copland’s music if I were driving around in a predominantly Black area? Or vice versa, what does it mean that if I want to make it through a white gated community, driving while Black, that I probably should roll down the windows while listening to Beethoven’s Eroica so I can seem “less threatening”?
I have obviously internalized the stereotype that Black people are a monolith. I want to decolonize my mind around this. I know and understand it intellectually, but I am challenged by kicking out this internalized stereotype and wonder if I’m in alone in this…
What’s your story about “authenticity and does this resonate with you?

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutions, a seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best known as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010). Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)which explored how key Black vegan men use hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. In 2016, she collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the backgrounder Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked offFoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system

Dr. Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project which has put on several ground-breaking conferences with emphasis on intersection of racialized consciousness, anti-racism, and ethical consumption (i.e., veganism, animal rights, Fair Trade). Last year she organized the highly successful conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter which can be downloaded.

Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. Her current 2016 lecture circuit focuses on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape which will be released in 2017, along with the second Sistah Vegan project anthology The Praxis of Justice in an Era of Black Lives MatterIn tandem with these book projects, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Harper was nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.


5 thoughts on “Not Authentically Black: Black Card Rejected

  1. I can definitely relate. I am part black and Japanese, and grew up in Hawaii, where the black community is quite small. I was very much influenced by my dad’s taste in music, which for argument’s sake I’ll just call black music. Music defined his life and mine. But as I grew into my teens, my music tastes expanded into punk, alternative, rock, some country, the Beatles, and even classical (I took piano lessons) which I would blast in my headphones. I always felt like I had to keep “white” music a secret around my black circle of friends, and I’ve only been comfortable sharing this part of me (music), in the last few years (I’m 42) with non-white people. It’s weird because it seemed like whereas my white friends thought my music tastes were eclectic, I felt like I would lose my blackness with my black friends and family. I realize things might be different today with the younger generation. The thing is, I love music, and having to prove that I am black while listening to “white” music has been exhausting. Thank you for opening up this conversation.

    By the way, I bought your book Sistah Vegan a few years ago, and have been following your work. Like music (and a lot of other things) veganism has been seen as a white thing, and it is so refreshing to see that notion challenged. Keep up the inspirational work! It’s important.

  2. I’m sorry (although I’m not apologizing) . . . I’m not authentically Black.

    There’s are a few little problems with being authentically Black. How do you do being a color? If you’re focused on being what other people say you are, when do you focus on being human?

    For years I had a roommate who made her home in Algeria for a decade or so. She taught me a wonderful Arabic word, gahfla. It means “the grand distraction.” Racial classifications are fallacies, in other words, gahfla, designed to keep the classified people distracted. Racism is about money, it’s about profiting from the land and labor of persons who do not look like the profiteers. Period.

    I’m fairly sure most of the women who will read this post will recognize the concept of gifts. Therefore, let me make some statements and ask some questions: regarding each person, millions of little wigglers made it out of your daddy, usually only one makes it to your mom’s egg, each one of us had a one in a million chance to be living on this Earth. What are you doing with the gift of life?

    Of all the billions of creatures on this Earth, only one has the brain, the language and the opposing thumbs to affect every living thing on this planet, that is, humans. What are you doing with the gift of your humanity?

    Speaking of brains, exactly what is it you are doing with the gift of a mind? Are you making choices based on logic, reason and research? Or are you abdicating the gift of thought in order to do drugs, or drink alcohol, use language to collect curse words, or to be Black enough to fulfill the stereotypical roles assigned to melanated people?

    I believe in the existence of the soul and experiencing a rich spiritual life dedicated to conscious living and growing increasingly more spiritually mature. What are you doing with the gift of a soul?

    Lastly, we are each given a body, only one body. How are you caring for this marvelous gift?

    To the woman who finds the writers on this site inauthentically Black because we are articulate, please understand, we are only human. Being articulate IS one of those pesky human traits.

  3. I have always had eclectic tastes in music. For the most part, I haven’t felt weird about it, because it fits the rest of my personality in my opinion. At times, I have seen looks passing back and forth between people when I put on music that isn’t considered “black music” and watched a former co-worker’s disbelief when I mentioned my musical tastes. However, I went to an arts high school, and I believe it really made a difference. I think other artists tend to be more open-minded, and it helped me embrace my uniqueness. I have already been told multiple times that I “sound white”, but it doesn’t matter to me.

    I think it makes sense to embrace music that moves you. If classical music makes your heart sing, I think you should enjoy it. You may introduce someone to great music and they may love it! There are so many of us hiding our true selves and wanting to fit in. Being black is more expansive than most people make it out to be. If we don’t dare to be different, then people don’t have the opportunity to change their point of view on what it means to be black.

  4. I am a white classical musician, and it bothers me more and more that classical music is just so white. I am feeling kind of racist just for participating in it, because it feels exclusionary. All the composers are white men. And when I perform in an opera orchestra, the stories are often extremely sexist as well, which is also disturbing. Same is true for most musicals. I had this thought that it would be a fun project to rewrite the stories of the old operas and musicals, to make them diverse, feminist, queer friendly, you name it, but keep the music that I love. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t really know how to even start, or if it is worth starting. Maybe it would be better to just support modern artists from marginalized groups, creating their own art? I am not sure, and would love to get some other perspectives.

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