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Thursday, December 07, 2006
Neo Soul Neo Bigot
I hardly ever refer to myself like this, but La Bella Noire is angry.

There is a subset of black people that some refer to as the "Neo-Soul" crowd. For whatever reason, many look to this group for their stereotypical academic prowess. More often than not, these are the people that mainstream society sees as the poets, the ones who are racially conscious, working toward creating a united front for our race. Some people, often very inaccurately, refer to these people as the open-mic set, always talking on a philosophical, in tune to the metaphysical aura of our race; able to tap into the emotional nerve of the people and express a pain and passion not easily articulated by most.

I can't say that I've completely bought into this stereotype, because I realize that everyone who wears the "neo-soul uniform" per se doesn't think the same way. Everybody has his or her own motivation and vision, and I respect that. But what I don't respect is intolerance.

I have quite a few friends and associates who are part of the so-called Soul Renaissance, and according to a few of them, I just don't measure up. I was, perhaps naively, under the impression that most of our soulful brothers and sisters don't spew dislike at other brothers and sisters that have a different view or lifestyle than theirs. I consider myself to be a well-rounded individual, but I guess for some people that's not good enough.

I'm not sure what exactly I'm "supposed" to be as a black woman according to these people. In their eyes, I'm not black enough because I participate in activities typically considered to be reserved for white people. So what I ski, so what I played lacrosse, so what I listen to rock music and hip-hop, so what I can sing some Broadway show tunes. All of that doesn't mean I don't know who I am and where I come from. According to them, I don't dress black enough and because I don't always wear my hair natural I'm somehow less than. Just because I decide to relax my hair doesn't make me a slave to European culture, nor does it mean that I'm ashamed of being brown and am trying to assimilate. I wear whatever I want to wear, and don't require anybody's permission to do so. I don't limit my friends or my dating pool based on their race, because honestly I have more important things to worry about. But I guess all of that means I'm not black enough, right?

As you can tell, this week my thoughts have been swirling around this subject. I suppose in the wake of Michael Richards' verbal assault and the NYPD incident with Sean Bell, I'm left wondering about the racial constructs and attitudes of our society. I'm patently disgusted with how so many of our people can actually stand up and say that they want to put up a united front for our race but continually berate their own. How can they expect anyone to take their fight for equality, etc seriously when they don't even like their own people. Telling me I'm not black enough to be in your presence doesn't make me want to unite with you, it makes me want to fracture with you.

Seriously, what good does it do to sit there and tell me that I don't meet your narrow-minded definition of blackness? I'm acutely aware of where I came from, what and who I am. It's a sign of insecurity when you have to tear down those who fight the same fight you fight everyday.


Blogger Gunfighter said...


You seem to have it figured out already

I refer to this group of people as "The Gatekeepers of Blackness" Those that feel that only they have the keys to authenticity (also known as "keepin' it real").

You se,, I happen to be one of thsoe people that many of our co-ethnicists think isn't "black enough". I talk differently (meaning I speak standard enligh), I listen to old soul music, but I think that most hip-hop is undecipherable crap, I wear what I want, go where I want, do what I want with whomever I please... hell, I don't even go to the right kind of church.

The funny thing is that I am almost certain that those who went before us suffered incredible injustice, and cruelty, humiliation and pain, just so we COULD do all of the things that you and I mentioned.

Well, I, for one (and I suspect you are no different) believe that this is my country, too, and I can be anything that I can achieve without the permission of the keepers of the gate.

Blogger Tasha said...

Thank you. I feel exactly the same way. Most of my life I've been told I'm not black enough because of the way I talk and essentially the way I live my life. But my experience has largely been the same as any average black person...I see racism, I've experienced it, I live it every day. Some of the worst racialized experiences I've had have come at the hands of our own people. But I haven't relied on my brown skin to acheive the things that I have, and I guess that's not acceptable. I absolutely refuse to live with a limited consciousness and potentially miss out on some excellent life experiences solely because those activities aren't "black enough". Life is too short for that. My elders walked through the fire so I could live my life any way I choose. No matter what I go or who I associate with, I'm black...that's a fact I'll never be able to change. I'm proud of who I am, but it doesn't have to define my experience.

Blogger Gunfighter said...

"... But I haven't relied on my brown skin to acheive the things that I have, and I guess that's not acceptable."

Sadly, that is true, for many of our people, young Sister.

Take heart, though, I have been dealing with it longer than you have, and I can tell you from life's experience that you will become a more successful, well-rounded, enlightened, and whole person... a full ctizen of our republic, because of it.

Never let anyone lead you off the path of whatever and whoever you want Tasha to become.

Why, oh, why do we rail against "the man" and how he seeks to limit and restrict us, when we spend so much of our own time trying to the same thing to ourselves?

Be strong!


Blogger Aulelia said...

gunfighter -- that is a great epithet "The Gatekeepers of Blackness". as for them, i bring it back to people who just want to make you feel lower than themselves because they pride themselves on their skewed version of identity. who we are as black people is so diverse and thank god for that because it means we will continue growing. let them continue running their mouths, after all, all that sprinting will make them tired and you'll be the one refreshed because you wouldn't have given into them.

Blogger Mrs. J said...


I enjoyed this post, especially growing up feeling that I had to constantly "prove my blackness" because of how I spoke or the activities I enjoyed. That was mostly in middle and high school but then in college – I went to an HBCU – there was a little of that too (just a more Afrocentric perspective).

I've worn braids, a perm a natural a curly weave a straight one at various times for the past fifteen years all because I don't give a damn about what political message other black folks might apply to my hair (plus I have a short attention span!). It's just hair! At least to me...

It wasn't until I visited Ghana in my senior year of college, thus realizing our unique experience as black Americans, that I saw myself as a citizen of the world.Because in Africa, I was called white (despite not looking it or being it). I saw so many Ghanain kids trying so desperate to be gangster – without guns though – that it wasn't even funny (okay, a little funny!). The warm "welcome home" I imagined from stangers wearing kente cloth robes never happened. I was devestated by all of this, but finally came home comfortable and proud to be black on my own terms.

Though we weren't together at that time, my husband had a similar awakening while we were there as well. Today, that understanding is a guiding compass in our lives as we raise our young kids. We call it "Post Blackness". Meaning that we are proud black people who live life on our own terms. Some might just say we're eccentric, and we are, but that's not the point.

We also have a name for "The Gatekeepers" (nice one, gunfighter)...Black Lunatics. Many Afrocentric types are just plain certifiable.

And to us, Neo-Soul is just the type of music we're into. Not much more.

You have figured this out early enough to live life as a confident black woman on your own terms. We are all so different, there really is room for everyone.:)

btw, I see you have Annys Shin on your blog roll. I went to high school with her (no, she wasn't one of the kids who teased me for "talking white"LOL).

Blogger Mrs. J said...

"The Gatekeepers" (nice one, gun') can also be described – at least in my house, anyway – as "Black Lunatics". I wouldn't give them or their judgements too much energy. There is nothing wrong with being well rounded and maintaining a nuanced world view. You can wear a perm, braids, a weave, an afro, whatever you desire and still be a politically conscious black woman.
You can yodel, for godssake. Who cares?

It sounds like you're what curator Thelma Golden described as "Post Black". If you google that term and Golden,you can probably find out more about it. To my husband and me (who I guess most folks would just describe as kinda eccentric but keep listening), Post-Black means living life as a black person on your own terms. Not selling out, but being a conscious black person who does not beleive there is one set way to live.

Post-Black is how we want to raise our three young kids – proud to be black and also be themselves. I see this as the best of both worlds.

I think you're on the right track. Don't worry about the narrow -minded. Water seeks its own level.

btw– I see you have Annys Shin on your blog roll. I went to high school with her (and no, she wasn't one of the kids who teased me for "talking white" LOL)

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