Photos x Chris Singlemann
I used to get beat up a lot in my younger years, and the aggressor was always Black.
It started with my dad.
Then a few kids in middle school.
Then one kid during my first year of high school. I was walking back from the parking lot outside my aunt’s apartment, and a group black kids around my age pulled up to me on bicycles. We spoke. I was nervous and awkward. One of them followed me up the stairs to the main door to the hallway leading to my aunt’s apartment. My hands were full, but I got the door open. Once I was in the doorway, I looked back to see a fist flying at my face. He hit me. He ran off.
I feel like that’s always been the case.
I first learned that I talked like a white person when I was around the age of 8. My cousins seemed so curious about me. They wanted to know why I didn’t dance like them and why I didn’t talk like them. They called me white boy. It was confusing. I knew I wasn’t white, and all at the same time, I didn’t feel very Black.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was socialized in a predominately white school for most of my formative years. My grandparents raised me to keep my head down, do good work, and never upset any white people. They listened to Black music, and watched Black television, and went to our Black relative’s houses for cookouts. I loved all these things, but often felt like an outsider.
None of my friends were black growing up. The ones that were, were only in my life temporarily, and either moved away or we just stopped being friends.
I used to think black women couldn’t possibly be beautiful. I didn’t talk to them, date them, or approach them. I thought they were all the stereotypes I’d heard about them and that I had convinced myself were true: that they were loud, unruly, aggressive, and insatiable. If they didn’t look like Britney Spears, I wanted nothing to do with them. I only felt safe dating and befriending white women. I was called out for it. But, I ignored it.
Things shifted after the first year of high school ended.
I moved to a predominantly black neighborhood with my dad and his new wife and his new stepdaughter. I hated being in such an unsafe household, my dad never stopped being physically and emotionally abusive, so I spent most of my time with friends. Also, I was a teenager.
I became fast friends with a few of the neighborhood kids. I learned that I played basketball like a white boy, but beyond that, they pretty much accepted me. One kid called me “preacher pimp” because I wore nice clothes to school and because many of my friends were women. I wasn’t a preacher nor was I sleeping with any of these woman, but it felt good to be acknowledged in a positive light. Yes, I know all of that was problematic, but this is my story.
I learned to freestyle rap, play basketball like someone outta of an AND1 mixtape, and use the N word effectively and proficiently, but for the most part, they were just people I kicked it with. And also, none of these things made us black or make anyone black. We could have read comic books together and played Dungeons and Dragons and we would have been just as Black.
Sure, my Black friends did things that my white friends didn’t do, but they weren’t from another planet. They felt hurt, pain, love, sadness, and happiness. They wanted better relationships with their family members. They freaked out about school. These black folk were me. And I was them. Not some kid who talked white, or was an easy target for getting beat up. I was Sinclair.
Maybe Black is whoever you are, whatever you love, and however you live in your Black skin.
Still, I held onto a lot of anger and hate towards my own Blackness.
I held onto my beliefs and perceptions about who other Black people were. I gave into what the media told me about Black people: criminal, unsafe, lazy, and dangerous. That narrative was and still is burned into my brain. I can recall more mugshots of Black men on the news, than I can celebrity profiles or Black excellence and achievements. I can recall more times that I’ve been afraid to walk in a space full of black people (family reunions, professional conferences, church, any predominantly Black city neighborhood it doesn’t matter) than I can recall walking into these spaces feeling okay with just being me.
I have so much to unlearn. But, I’m trying. I’m telling you all this. That’s a good first step. I’m aware of the problematic narrative I replay and subscribe to. That’s a good step. I’m reaching out to black men and asking to hang out with them. I putting together a mental health conference for black people and by black people to be held in Baltimore next summer. I’m purposeful about connecting with black folks in any space I enter. My therapist is black. My black wife teaches me about this world and about myself everyday. My future children will be black.
And, I’m black.
Still, I have a long way to go. I’ve seen a lot of conversations on social media about self-hating black men who “prefer” lighter skinned women to darker skinned women. I’m like, that used to be me. Not that long ago.
I see brothas defending themselves and wasting their breath trying to silence anyone who holds them accountable. I’m like, I’m stubborn like that. My masculinity is so flawed and fragile and unhelpful at times.
I look in the mirror, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to exist in this Black body. I hate my own skin at times, and am embarrassed to be Black. This isn’t healthy; this isn’t how I want to live.
These days, the worst part of all this is feeling unsafe to be Black. I feel like white people are emboldened to shoot us, strike us, harm us on site. I feel like my Blackness gets confused for targets all the time. I feel like no matter how many degrees I have, I’m still less than.
But it doesn’t stop here. I’m not stopping at just admitting how I feel and being real about the barriers. I’m seeking to learn more and embrace my Blackness. I’m working on discovering spaces where I find comfort. I’m working on not feeling so upset when people pull my Black card. I’m working on being less judgmental and pious when someone who looks like me walks into a room. I’m tired of being a crab in a barrel. There is no barrel. It’s just all of us.
I don’t want a badge, a trophy, or an applause. I simply want to do better. But, it’s not simple. So many of us are actively working to unlearn and undo the impact of slavery, trauma, and internalized racism.
And, I’m tired of doing this shit alone and in my head. Maybe you’re doing the work as well. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking: Dang, I thought it was just me.
It’s not. A lot of us are steeped in self-hate, and so many don’t even know it.
So, if you’re black, and you’re reading this, please, reach out. Or please comment and share your story. Or just please be a little patient with me as I figure out how to untangle myself out of this beautiful complex mess that is a story and life of hurt, shame, being excluded, bring brought in, being loved, being black.