Wibecan: Identity crisis
Some days it is real hard to remain black.
Take last week, for example. There I was, driving through Plattsburgh on one of those hot days with the window down and the radio playing. I wasn't paying much attention to what was on, but I do know it wasn't black music because very little of that gets played in these parts.
I didn't think it was all that loud, but when I stopped for a red light I heard a black person in a nearby car say: "You ain't black. Black people don't listen to that kind of music.
"Amazing!" I thought. "How easy it is to get kicked out of the black race. I mean ... all I did was to listen to some country on my car radio. I forgot that people could hear me."
Crestfallen at losing my black credentials, I stopped to have a drink. I couldn't go to a black bar because there aren't any, so I stopped at the first dimly lit place I could find and ordered a rum and coke.
I stumbled my way to a seat in the corner. As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom I noticed my friend Danny sitting at another table. He looked sad.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I ain't black anymore," he said. "I got kicked out of the race for failure to support Obama."
I sat down at his table and explained how I had just experienced a similar thing.
"It sure is hard to stay black," said Danny as he stared into his glass of French wine. "Why I might even get in trouble for this. Black folks only drink Ripple or Night Train."
"Right now you have nothing to lose," I said. "You've already been kicked out. Might as well enjoy it."
Danny slammed his fist on the table; I grabbed my drink to keep it from spilling. "I'm tired of this," he said angrily. "I can't remember to watch everything I do, and I don't even know how you go about getting to be black again. Maybe I will have to take black lessons, or something."
"Hi Danny and Ken," said a female voice.
We looked up, and there was Josephine standing there with a drink in her hand. "Mind if I join you?" she asked.
"Sure, if you want to be seen with us," I said. "We just got kicked out of the black race."
"So did I," said Josephine. "I was making a business call, ordering a new phone. When I went to the office to see the person I had been talking to it turned out to be a sister. She said to me, 'I thought you were a white girl. You don't sound black, you talk too white.' So I came over here to have a drink."
"You really do have a problem," I said. "You don't even have a black name. Who ever heard of a black woman named Josephine?"
"I guess you're right. I just don't know what I am going to do," she said sadly.
"Isn't that Ed?" said Danny, pointing to the entrance of the lounge.
Ed was wearing his usual suit and tie. We beckoned to him and he made his way over to our table. Ed knew me and Danny, and we introduced him to Josephine.
"Don't tell me that you've been kicked out of the race, too," I asked.
Ed looked at us in surprise. "I don't know how you know it, but, yes, I was dumped but not by black folks," he said. "You know that I'm a manager for a large corporation and most of the people I work with are white. This afternoon we were standing around after a meeting and one of them said to me: 'You know, Ed, I never think of you as black. Why, you're just like one of us.' The others agreed. So now I can't be black anymore."
"So why are all of you here?" asked Ed.
We shared our stories with him, and then got into a heavy discussion about other transgressions that can result n dismissal from the black race. Going to a Bruce Springsteen concert, for example, or not having a sense of rhythm, or pronouncing chitlins as chit-ter-lings, or not knowing how to play Rise and Fly. Any one of them could get you tossed out.
"What are we going to do?" said Josephine.
"Yeah, what?" asked Danny. "I don't know how to be anything else.
Ed looked thoughtful. "Maybe we can work our way back in," he said. "We could get some Stacy-Adams two-tone shoes, and dress in the popular style. Each of us could get new stereos for our cars, and promise to only play black music — and play it loud.
"Danny, you'll just have to learn to support Obama; and Josephine, you can learn to speak Ebonics. Ken, there is probably no hope for you," he added.
A well-dressed white man headed toward our table and stopped. "Mind if I sit with you? " he asked.
"We are here discussing personal problems, why do you want to join us?" I said.
"Well, I just got kicked out of the white race and I don't know where to go. My friends said that I liked black music too much and had too many black friends. They called me a colored-lover," he said, sadly.
Looks like everybody has some kind of identity crisis.
Ken Wibecan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.