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I am not black anymore…

It happened one day, almost three years ago now, and it was very sudden. Sortof like an overnight success story, you know, the kind where you’ve been working for years on something and then out of the blue you rise out of the ashes and bam, you get hit over the head with an epiphany. That’s right, suddenly and seemingly out of the blue, I made a decision and from that point forward, that was it, I wasn’t black anymore.

I have to thank Barack Obama and more specifically the media for provoking this transformation. The entire presidential campaign in 2008 and its massive coverage of what they were calling an historical event ultimately ended up pushing me over the edge. On and on they’d go about the ramifications of potentially electing the first black president. It’s such a long drawn out process, that whole election campaign thing in the US, that already I was tired of hearing about how we might potentially see either the first female president or the first black president. And yes, I agreed, this was history in the making, no doubt about it. It was also the future but they mostly billed it as history. When it finally became clear that it wouldn’t be a woman, I decided to look up this Barack Obama, the so-called black man that might become the next president. I was interested to know who this man was.

Much to my surprise, as I began reading his biography, I discovered that Obama is born to a black father and a white mother and was raised by his mother. While his life has been very different from mine, we do have that part in common. We are a mixed breed yet the label we carry is that we are black. As soon as your skin is a bit darker and you sport an afro, that’s it, there is no question about it, you are black with all its rights and priveleges. The other half of your genetic makeup becomes irrelevant. Until the day of my epiphany in 2008 when that knock over the head completely changed my point of view, there was not a day went by that I wished I wasn’t black! Three years ago, I freed myself. I didn’t realize it then but let me tell you how liberating it is to not be black anymore.

Here is exactly what happened, how my complete transformation occurred. I was getting angrier and angrier every time I would hear anyone talking about how the US might actually elect a black man. Since I’d read his bio, I was on this thing about how he is just as much white as he is black and so why is everyone calling him black? Anyone who knows me will remember how I’d go on about that. It got to the point where I was practically turning into the Incredible Hulk every time that topic came up. For those of you who don’t know the Incredible Hulk, he is a fictitious character from a 1970’s television series. A normal man who turns into a very kind but powerful green monster whenever he gets angry.

So that was me, turning into the Incredible Hulk because it annoyed me to no end that Obama was constantly being labelled as black despite the fact that it’s only half true. Suddenly, one day in a calm moment, I was thinking about this whole thing and I decided that this was crazy. I was tired of being black. And as luck would have it, how fortunate is it that I’m just as white as I am black. So I came to a brilliant conclusion. I’ve lived over 40 years being black and now I’m going to balance things out and be the other half of me for at least the next 40 years. Now, I was going to be white. As simple as that. And I was most excited by my decision. I figured that ought to solve it once and for all. It made me chuckle but it also made me feel really good!

That brilliant idea of mine lasted less than 24 hours. The next day as I was making my coffee for the first time as a white person, again I got to thinking… I realized right then and there how absurd this all was. After all, my coffee tasted exactly the same as when I used to make it back when I was black the day before. So, while I was most excited about being white now, a full blown caucasian, still it made no sense because it is actually the label that was unnerving me. Why do I need a damn label? How is changing the label going to make any difference at all? While I had realized that it’s my life and so I can choose my own label, a problem remained. I simply don’t like labels. I cut them out of all my clothes and I don’t like wearing clothes that have someone else’s name on it and on and on my issues go. At last I came up with the perfect solution. I would carry no label at all, just like my clothes. I am not black and I am not white. I simply, am. That’s it. I am! And wow, did that ever feel so much better. It felt right. “Here I am!”. Just like that.  Kindof like Prince but I kept my name.  You can still call me Kharim.

Oh did I ever think that was cool. And it felt so good. Now I needed to figure out how I would do that, you know, be the woman formerly labelled as black.  And I had to figure out what I really meant by that. A few more days of working out the details and it all fell into place. I had made another realization. I had been black all these years because that is how I saw myself. It doesn’t matter as much how others see you, it’s about how you see yourself. All my behaviours had been custom tailored, by yours truly, based on who I thought I was. I thought I was black and as a result, that is how I expected others saw me too. I spent so much energy compensating for all the stereotypes out there which clearly ended up making matters worse. Why? Because 24 hours a day, I was black. In my mind, I was black. And that was a predominant thought process I carried around. Now I am free because I don’t think about it anymore. Now, I simply am, and that’s that, I have let go of that black label and there’s been room for the rest of me to appear. Oh it’s really cool! I no longer have that expectation that people will immediately see that I’m black. It’s just not a thought that goes through my mind. So, maybe that’s still how people see me but it’s no longer a preoccupation of mine. It’s fabulous.

I’ve discovered that despite this predilection in our society to put labels on everything, we don’t need to assume any of those labels if we aren’t comfortable with them. I can take the labels off my clothing and I can keep them off my “self”. If it helps you to identify me to tag me with a label, be my guest, but you can be assured that if you want me to actually wear it, you may end up quite disappointed. Now it’s me who decides who I am. That black shoe, it didn’t fit. The white one, I’ve never worn. But my shoe, now it fits.  If you insist that my shoe needs a label, the only label that I’ll acknowledge is the one called Kharim.

I want to tell you this…just how liberating it is to lose the label and walk in the proper shoe. I always saw myself as being black and all those years I lived that reality and there was not a thing of it that I enjoyed. I hated it. But ever since I changed my own label, and how I see myself, it’s really fantastic…all that hell on earth has disappeared. Like I said, it’s been almost three years now and I am telling you, for me it’s been a whole new world and the pain is gone, just like that. I always agreed with Michael Jackson when he said,

“I’m not going to spend my life being a colour!”

It made perfect sense to me. I just didn’t know how to apply that, until now. I’m done with the label now and I feel great. Emancipated!

I am not black anymore. I am me, and now I’m free.

Kharim

Black or White by Michael Jackson

 

17 Comments

  1. Cheers to that Kharim! Being decedent of a half Peruvian half Spaniard Mother and a half Italian half Armenian father, grew up with a Chinese step Grand-Mother and it just goes on and on, I had dubbed myself the UN. Never would people just say, Hi Stephanie, nice to meet you it was, “Hi, where are you from?” And when I would say Montreal they would quickly reply “No really…..”. This fixation people have to label others and this need to put people in categories…black/white/short/tall/skinny/overweight etc is simply exhausting.

    That said, I could not agree with you more. Just being who you are nothing more nothing less. That is what I try and teach my children, you are not defined by societies need to label you, you are simply who you are and who you want to be.

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  2. I love this post Kharim. Very honest. We all assign labels to ourselves, but one that is visible is much harder to shed… and us who don’t have a visible label cannot ever hope to understand that feeling. Though try we might. It’s interesting how sometimes in trying to shed a label we quickly assign another label to ourselves… often people assign labels to themselves based on their position or job… “I am a doctor”, “I am a lawyer”, or as a recently heard from a mom I know “I am nothing”. It is a sad predicament that we cannot just all just “be”, like you say. Why do we need to find our worth in our labels? Many moms I have met have this feeling of being “nothing”.

    From my experience Kharim people notice you because of your amazing charisma, talent, humour and wit (as well as being really really SMART!)… not because you are “black”.

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  3. Excuse me if I may sound a bit ignorant, but my first thought was … ” what the heck … Kharim is black???? Christ, I never would have guessed.” Seriously. I never saw you as any other colour than the colour of Kharim! And that’s a beautiful colour, my friend! XOXO

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  4. Bravo! What a thought provoking message and a phenomenal and monumental insight into your own humanity!
    I am examining my own labels now! My own experience is no where near your own but when I moved to Quebec from Ontario, despite having a Francophone mother and speaking fluently the French language I became an Anglophone. People had to explain to me what the heck that was. Previously I just thought of myself as a bilingual Canadian! I have never felt comfortable with that label and I thank you for providing such a great perspective on the fundamental wrongness of putting labels on other people. Your words are fantastic!

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  5. Dear Kharim,

    Oh how I LOVE your post and your wonderful sense of humour in your explanations. Funny thing is that it wasn’t until you wrote about being black, that I thought about that aspect of you when thinking of you! Sounds silly perhaps. I have eyes and I can see that you are not what would be considered white, nor are you asian, nor native. To me you are a wonderful shade of YOU. When I think of you I think; Talented, Funny, Smart, Lots of Energy, Outgoing, Hard Working, Patient, Generous,… and I know there’s lots more that could be added but seriously, when I describe you (when I recommend you for instance) that’s who I describe. Color isn’t on the radar, at least for me. If it is on theirs when they get in touch or check out your website, and your skin tone sways their decision against you, that’s their loss. Why should it ever be an issue? I’ve NEVER understood this. I understand why you may have been less than happy living as a black woman, when it’s clear that it is an issue for many, but I will never get why it is an issue.

    I was really annoyed with the U.S. election campaign. Sure it was history to elect a man whose skin color was not pasty white, but that surely isn’t the most important aspect of this person’s role in the White House.
    When the media stop including mention of someone’s skin color while reporting details of events, then perhaps we can say that society has moved in the right direction, and color is truly not an issue.
    Or perhaps they can start including ‘white’ in their reports. Bill Clinton, a white male from Arkansas is running for President…

    I do wonder who taught you that your skin color was a thing to be hated, as you stated “…all those years I lived that reality and there was not a thing of it that I enjoyed. I hated it.” Or was it an accumulation of problems along the way? In any case I think your heritage is an important part of you, in that it makes you special and unique, including your skin color. That’s something to be celebrated and appreciated.

    I think that the way that we look, including skin color, is not at all a reflection of who we are. How we act in the world, how we treat others, the difference that we make, all matter so much more and say much more about who we really are. That’s what I like to go by. On that score I think you’re a huge success.

    Lovingly,
    Lesley

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  6. I love your story and how you have decided to be just you. I am not sure that your solution works for everyone. Most people like labels as it keeps things clear and keeps things in the correct box. Your story brings to my mind a story from many years ago about Tiger Woods that made me respect him immensely. As a 21-year old golfer he was promoted as the “Great Black Hope”.
    He gave a Media statement about how his parents have taught him to always be proud of his ethnic backgrounds. He went on to say that the media portrayed him to be African-American and sometimes Asian and that he was in fact both. He ended this statement by saying he was proud to be an American and would hope that the media could see him as a golfer and a human being. I loved that he took that stand.

    As for the situation closest to my heart, Kendrick, I don’t see him as black or white. U see him as the combination of his parents. I hope he gets the best from both his parents personalities and cultures and becomes the strongest, happiest “him” he can be.

    So all this to say, hats off to you for just being you!

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  7. “I’ve discovered that despite this predilection in our society to put labels on everything, we don’t need to assume any of those labels if we aren’t comfortable with them”-Kharim

    I will serve that to my teenagers or should I say young adults. I love it!

    To my defense as labeler,I am the one who will ask someone about her skin tone, or eye color or accents origins. I envy and find fascinating you “others” with all that richness. You live it as imposed.I see them as gifts. I do not like my white (almost blue in the winter) skin soooooooo conscious the fist days of shorts. I envy those almond eyes , full lips, and ho my those sensual/colorful accent when you talk. Music to my ears. I am just plain white. I blend in america…

    So,

    Bravo for

    “I’ve discovered that despite this predilection in our society to put labels on everything, we don’t need to assume any of those labels if we aren’t comfortable with them”

    and apologies from the curious labeler:)

    Thank you for you openness and generosity
    and thanks Dominic for posting it

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  8. Dearest ‘I am.': Yes. You are. oxoxoxox

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  9. Wow!! Thank you for this everyone!! I am really touched by what you are saying and I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to be so moved in so many ways. It took me over 2 months to finally get on to writing this article and I thought I was ready when I posted it. Something that I find most interesting in reading your comments and stories is that, for me, it really helps to confirm just how much I was barking up a detrimental tree by carrying the perceptions of myself that I had. So I am having mixed emotions right now…on the one hand, I am so very happy to have decided to change my own perceptions of myself, and on the other hand it brings me a certain element of sadness to see that you all were seeing something very different in me than I was seeing in myself. But still, you are making me smile and the emotions are not bad ones…just stronger than I had expected. Thank you for that and for such kind kind words!

    I have to agree that it is sad to hear mothers say that they are nothing, and to know that that is how they feel about themselves. And like you’re all saying, somehow along the way we seem to learn to define ourselves with labels, all kinds of labels. There was a time, back before I made this decision to drop my own labels three years ago, that I would have accepted your apologies for being labelers as you’re saying. But today, I personally need no apologies because it’s not about the fact that we assign labels, it really is about how we ourselves are assuming those labels. I have used my own story as an example and the one label I had chosen to wear as a cross to bear but yes, definitely, there are a million labels out there. I believe it’s natural to be curious about others and, like children, we want to know where people are from and who they are. We’re naturally curious and thank god for that! I feel now that with labels just being words rather than a fundamental part of who I am, the restrictions I had imposed on myself are now gone.

    As to who taught me that my skin colour was something to be hated? I essentially taught that to myself over time. I was “different” and I somehow got this idea in my head that I had to be the same to belong. As if there is any such thing as “the same”. I adopted for myself my own interpretations of a label.

    I didn’t know just how much control I had over my own life. I thought I had to wait until things changed “out there” before I could feel happy being who I am…before I could feel free. I therefore felt that I had no control. But it is not so. I see clearly by your words that how I perceived myself and what I saw in the mirror was completely different than what you all saw and perceived. I had been putting more value in an adjective than in myself. I find it fun, and like I was saying, liberating to realize that I can pick and choose my adjectives and change them up at will depending on what suits me and I can carry on without any adjectives if I feel like it. It’s me who decides that now. If I get really lost and feeling uncomfortable without any labels, I can go grab a few that I like.

    Yes, for me this is working now. I do like it! And again, THANK YOU!!! :)

    Kharim

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  10. I don’t think anyone really lives without any labels… that would be just too Zen! And god knows I am a long way from that! But perhaps the key is to change the labels from “I AM _____(insert desired label here)” to “I DO _____” or “My skin is”. So rather than saying “I am a nurse” or whatever job, we should say “I am many things but what I do as a job is nursing”.

    If we do not put value in that which we are, then others will not either. I was a stay at home mom for a number of years, and recently someone asked me “do you have a job?”… I replied “you mean apart from my full time job as a mother?”, this after years of sheepishly replying, “uh… not really”. But what I found was the reaction was very different, this woman seemed impressed by the fact that I respected my job as a mother. Now I do work part time, but the conversation ended there, because I no longer needed to validate my existence by telling her what my “REAL job” is.

    I would never even assume to know what it is like to be a visible minority, that is a label you can shed but will still be cast upon you by others. It’s unrealistic to think that one day people will not see skin colour or will stop being racist, but you can certainly change how you view yourself, you can choose to love the blend of cultures that you are, embrace it, and be who you are or you can fight it, hide it, try to change it, be embarrassed by it etc etc. But by doing so you expend so much energy that you don’t have any left to be yourself, you are so busy trying to NOT be something, that you are NOT anything really.

    I don’t think you taught yourself entirely that your skin colour was something to be hated. Society is to blame as well for that, no doubt, there is racism everywhere. But I guess what you are saying is that you agreed to take on that label.

    I still struggle with shedding my labels, and not labelling myself with things I don’t want to be labelled with. For years I was “shy” and “nice”, I have never been shy, (nor nice! LOL) I am just an introvert… not the same thing. When I accepted the fact that I didn’t need to be the life of a party, or even enjoy going to a party for that matter, and could say no to a party if I wanted, I began to regain my confidence in myself. Because I now accept the fact that I am not an extrovert, and that yes I am opinionated, and that I don’t need to always make people feel good by agreeing with their opinions, I started regaining some power. No one has called me “shy” or “nice” in years, it’s great!

    Thanks for writing this post…

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    • You are welcome and thank YOU! There are once again many great points and thoughts here. I think that your comment on valuing ourselves really hits the mark, when you say, “If we do not put value in that which we are, then others will not either.” I love this and feel that it’s a very important point to remember.

      I am not a mother but have certainly heard more than enough mothers struggling with the issues you’ve brought up here. And it’s so very similar to wearing the “black” label or any other label. Why do we allow all these labels and feelings to take up so much room in our lives when, as you say, we could expend that energy in so many other ways which would benefit not only ourselves but others as well? It’s tough for sure, but worth considering…

      Thanks Michelle and to all of you for bringing to light many of the other labels and really helping to make these points!!

      Reply
  11. Great post Kharim…

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  12. Your best post yet!

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  13. WOW! How honest and deep. Thanks for sharing :)

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  14. Thank you!! 😉

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  15. I like your post, Great! but hell it is difficult to read white on black background.

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  16. It is funny, when I was asked who or what I was I answered I am the mother of three kids and I teach on the side to keep them clothed and fed. I never saw my teaching job as a career, although obviously I did it with seriousness.
    So I did put a label on myself, a label I was proud of, and made me happy most of the time, a label that I could share with zillions of other women of all shades of skin.

    Reply

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