Baratunde Thurston writes, “In that moment, the black pride I absorbed in my home was balanced by the embarrassment, rage, paranoia, and self-restraint that often accompany blackness in the outside world of America” (26). Born in Lagos, Nigeria, my family and I moved to the United States when I was barely a year old. We found a permanent resident in Newark, New Jersey, a city composed predominantly of African-Americans and Hispanics. As a child, I believe that my parents took it upon themselves to ensure that I was always aware of my culture. My mom, working as a seamstress at home, made sure that the family was well equipped with the formal agbada and other Nigerian attire. My parents would only speak Yoruba and most of my childhood was filled with delicious Nigerian dishes. The point of me telling you all this is this: I knew my culture. However, I did not know my race until a particularly incident occurred in pre-school. It’s funny because I still remember it like the back of head. One beautiful afternoon, while returning back to the school building after recess, one of my classmates stopped me and said, “Do you know that you’re black?” Stunned by the question, I couldn’t help but looked puzzle and say, “What are you talking?” I looked down at my hands, looked back up at him and said, “I’m brown.” As though I was speaking another language, he responded, “No, you’re black. I’m white” I was baffled by his conviction and couldn’t understand what he was talking about. I began to question whether or not I knew my colors. “Was black another way to describe brown?” This question left me confused or a whole 25minutes before I gave up thinking about it and carried on with my day. Today, I look at that moment and wonder what my mom would have said if I brought the incident up to her. “What did he mean I was black? It makes absolutely no sense.”
Although the title of this blog is “When I First Realized I was Black”, I can tell you that on that day I did not realize that I was black. However, I did realize that stark categories for defining people existed. At that moment, I was aware that I was the other: that I was (in some way) fundamentally different from the person I was talking to. However, I did not realize the type of social implications such differences would mean in my life. I look back at that day not as the day I found out that I was black but as the moment I knew what being black meant: an irrevocable label that determines how others see and treat you. I actually wish I could go back to that day and tell my classmate: “so what?” I think that would’ve made for a much more interesting conversation, even if were just preschoolers.