The Boundaries of Blackness

“You are a CHRISTIAN, that is your IDENTITY! You have turned your back on your PEOPLE by abandoning the faith!”

I looked at the message again and sucked my teeth. It was May 2010, barely a month after I’d taken shahadah, and the ish was hitting the proverbial fan. The angry words came from an acquaintance turned minister who rolled in the same circles that I had as a teen. A strong Baptist-in more than action-he’d taken it upon himself to “talk some sense” into me and point out how wrong I was for leaving Christianity. I was quite offended with the condescending way that he was speaking to me and I did not appreciate his pathetic attempts to psycho-analyze me. But more than that, I was irked with his assertion that being Black meant I  must be a Christian.  It was 2010, yet I was being told the same thing that I had been told as a teen: that being Black is conditional and to be considered part of the group I had to obey certain rules.

It started when I was in middle school. My mother was a very articulate and well-read woman, and she raised me to follow her lead. Before I could read, she bought two sets of encyclopedias for me. My mother instilled a deep love of knowledge in me and taught to me to be repulsed by ignorance. So you can imagine my utter surprise when I was confronted with the strain of anti-intellectualism that runs through some segments of the Black community. For being well-spoken and enjoying literature I was told I was “acting white”, I was a “sellout” and an “oreo”.

But being smart wasn’t the only  way one could violate the rules of “Blackness”. Liking music other than gospel, hip-hop or R & B, refusing to straighten your hair with chemicals and/or heat, voting Republican/ Libertarian/Independent or dating interracially were all things that could get your Black card pulled. Now at various points in my life I have been “guilty” of everything listed above. But the mother of all sins against my “Blackness”, thus far, has been rejecting first Chrsitianity and now religion altogether.I knew that ending my love affair with Jesus would not be well-received. And I will not front, I was slightly nervous about coming out as an agnostic atheist. I knew what my people thought about nonbelievers. I knew that we think secular humanism and atheism are for “crazy white folks”. In completely rejecting religion, I would be placing myself far outside the pale. But you know what? I’m okay with that, for I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. If there is anything that my life has taught me, it is that being content and honest with myself is more important than adehring to groupthink. Furthermore, there are no real boundaries of Blackness to begin with. For no matter what I believe, what I think, what I read, how I vote, or who I love, I will always be a Black woman. Blackness isn’t a list of arbitrary rules. Blackness just IS.

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