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Photo by Sarah Mirk. Creative Commons license.

Dana Thompson as Lt. Uhura along with Jesse Graff as Commander Spock, Adam Rosko as Capt. James T. Kirk, and Brandee Haynes in the Atomic Arts production of ‘Trek in the Park’. Photo by Sarah Mirk. Creative Commons license.

Blavity — one of my favorite blogs — recently ran an article titled, “To All My Weird Black Girls.” As soon as I saw it on my newsfeed I was excited, because I knew this article would speak to me. But then I read it in its entirety.

The writer spoke plainly about being an outlier in the black community because she loves heavy metal, anime and Star Trek. She says, “I was unlike many girls in the black community, and it made me insecure and uncomfortable and even brought tears to my eyes.”

In some ways I could relate to this. My first album was Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill and my first cassette tape was No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. I have memories of opting out of recess just so I could curl up with a good book on the benches and catch up with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High. I played with slugs, loved making fart noises and didn’t know who Tupac was when he died. 

I was a weird black girl and wore my weirdness as a badge of honor.  I also received my fair share of bullying for being an outlier. I’ll never forget my fifth-grade bully, Ladonna, chasing me around the playground calling me a “wannabe white girl.”  Despite praying that  I wouldn’t get my ass kicked, I remember feeling a great deal of pain for being accused of “acting white.” It was confusing because in my mind I just wanted to be myself and I wondered why that wasn’t enough.

But Jaya’s article was problematic for me. In one part she says, “Society has an idealized perception of a black person. They feed into the stereotypes and think that everyday black people are loud, obnoxious, ‘ghetto,’ etc. If someone does not fit this description, they are an outsider.”

Related: Casually Cosplaying at Anime Expo

Throughout the article, the only traits she associates with “typical” black people are negative. She admits that she didn’t truly feel accepted until she went to college and met people with similar interests. One of the main points of the article was, if you didn’t conform to this narrative of blackness, you were considered weird. Being someone who sees both weirdness and blackness as incredible gifts, I beg to differ.

Although I was a weirdo, I was still accepted by my core group of black friends. We listened to Usher, The Fugees, Next and Tamia and and danced to their songs in talent shows. Even though I was criticized for “acting white” by a couple of bullies, I was also taught to be proud of my blackness from an early age. 

I celebrated Kwanzaa, played with black Barbies and Kenya dolls, and had a huge crush on Langston Hughes. In fifth grade, I won first place (by a landslide) at my school’s Black History Bee. My mother spent hours helping me study, and it gave me great pleasure to learn about the amazing accomplishments of people who shared the same hue as me. On the other hand, I also loved rocking out to Korn and Matchbox 20, but I never felt the need to reject black culture to embrace being eclectic. Both realities existed within me simultaneously and created the curious, creative and weird little girl that I was.  

The movie Dope attempted to address this conundrum of black identity as well. The lead character Malcolm gets beat up and bullied for liking “white people shit.” In his application to Harvard he poses the question, “Am I a geek or a menace?” This question contains racially charged, hidden language that really asks questions like, “Do I identify with white or black culture?” or, “Do I want to go to college or to prison?” 

Identity within a racial binary framework seems to always ask you to choose a side — and no matter which side you choose, you’re forced to tell an incomplete story about who you are. Although some parts are relatable, Jaya’s “To All My Weird Black Girls,” along with the movie Dope, subscribe to this racial binary of either/or rather than subverting it. 

Related: Fashion Faux Pas for the 30-Something: My Little Pony

In their stories, black people are only valued or considered “special” if they embrace dominant white culture. Identifying with white culture isn’t synonymous with being “special” or unique because the dominant culture has never had a monopoly on weirdness; if anything, it’s been the “other” — it’s people forced to live life on the margins who have engaged in the most innovation.

Accepting black culture doesn’t equate to conformity; black narratives are filled with individuals who have created themselves for themselves, despite popular consensus. Black women are multi-faceted and there are tons of weird black girls out there who embrace both their weirdness and blackness. In many ways, they are one in the same.

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Heather was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena, California and proudly claims Oakland as her adopted home. She has a B.A. in African-American Studies from Smith College (proud Smithie), and a Masters in Education Leadership from New York University. Heather's spent the past decade working in the field of educational equity and advocacy. She currently teaches Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University and manages a blog called What's Happening Black Oakland? She also contributes to Blavity, a blog for black millennials. Heather's committed to writing interesting and relevant stories that aren't being covered by the mainstream media, while straying away from the single story that is usually imposed on people of color. In her free time she enjoys traveling and going to live shows.

Comments
  • Tina

    in fact, liking metallica and star trek very much is white cultural theft. leave it.

    Jul 19, 2019
  • Brian Lockett

    Though, I would note that there’s a profound difference between being a “weird” black person, and being someone late to the “blackness” party.

    One can be a “weird” black person without being someone who’s provably late on that authentic part of our general unique experience we as black people can and do call as “blackness.”

    Not knowing who Tupac wasn’t doesn’t make you “un-black.” (Young and a bit sheltered at the time, perhaps, but not any less “black.”)

    Though, if you were hypothetical someone who prefers to, say, defend MAGA, and then *learn* that they were racist (Omarosa…), then you’re late to the blackness party, and you probably deserve to be outed for such, if you help cause the rest of us any trouble.

    …THEN we other black folks, as a more valid “blackness,” might pick on your more valid “whiteness.”

    For the most part, we as black people don’t just wake up and think, “I’m black today.” Well, we would like to, anyways.

    The true measure of one’s “blackness” is being someone who doesn’t contribute to the heavier hands set against black people, rather than just being someone who’s just *strayed* the course of what’s “traditionally” regarded as “black” interests.

    Because, I’m telling you, I keep both Otis Redding (soul) and Mastodon (sludge metal) on my Spotify playlist, because I’m a black Georgia native who grew up partly in Colorado–but I’ll turn into full-ass Malcolm X quick, if my black people are being oppressed somewhere.

    As long as the spirit of some sort of black archetype of the past possesses you when trouble for us arises (MLK, Sojourner, Frederick, Harriet, Malcolm–SOMEBODEH’!), and you ain’t no Uncle/Aunt Ruckus in life like Ben Carson, Joy Villa, or Thomas Sowell, then you’re still a member of the Black Cookout Society–even if you were someone black who never went to one, somehow.

    (But, hypothetical chile’, do go to one. Get off that hypothetical mayonnaise life some.)

    Jul 20, 2019
  • Brian Lockett

    Correction: “Not knowing who Tupac was…”

    (Just keepin’ my head up, about typos.)

    Jul 20, 2019
  • Jah Muhammad

    Thank you for addressing & undoing this tendency to associate what is “typical” and “black” with negative behaviors & perceptions whenever people want to have a vent-fest about their resentment over being unaccepted. There is so much more to that than we typically can or will explain. Overall, it squashes & limits the beauty & braod spectrum of blackness. This is a wholly great article!

    Jul 20, 2019
  • Robyn

    I don’t know why I can’t see any comments, but I can’t so I don’t know if anyone has mentioned that Dana Thompson suddenly passed away on July 18th. She is greatly missed.

    Jul 22, 2019
  • Allen

    This is one tired conversation old conversation. My observation has been not a matter of you acting black but more that they don’t truly know the deep ness of our history so ironically they are not living up to their blackness. Like what you ever you want. I could rattle of a dozen black rock bands that most blacks wouldn’t know, nor most whites. Unfortunately most of us don’t know our history beyond what is superficially taught in public and private schools so they are the last ones who need to be judges of blackness. That said, Korn, matchbox 20….eh, if you’re gonna go in, go deep, go all the way. You’ll be surprised by the jewels you will discover.

    Jul 22, 2019
  • Jungle

    LOVED THIS.
    I am a black man who faced the exact criticism. To me being “weird” is almost a super power. Your interests involving music, activities, etc spill over into both cultures.

    Jul 23, 2019
  • Ali

    I just have to say, that I had three amazing black friends in high school who were some of the most stunning goth guys and women I have ever met to this DAY, and that was nearly twenty years ago. I hate that people are being judged for their interests.

    Jul 23, 2019
  • Krys

    Excellent. Can identify. AA who loves Baroque music

    Jul 24, 2019
  • Eli

    Just a word of love for Dana, who is pictured in your wonderful piece. You were powerful, you were singular, you were funny, you were kind, you spoke truth no matter what, and we miss you terribly. Rest in Power.

    Jul 25, 2019
  • Jonathan

    How exactly are we defining “blackness” here? Is it listening to Usher, celebrating Kwanzaa?

    “Although I was a weirdo, I was still accepted by my core group of black friends.”
    And what about those that didn’t have this luxury? Are they still tasked with “subverting the binaryyyy” if they lived through it? Is describing ones lived experience problematic if it was heavy in the binary?

    I think a lot of this article is problematic. So much of it comes off as a weird flex;
    “I celebrated Kwanzaa, played with black Barbies and Kenya dolls, and had a huge crush on Langston Hughes.”

    Sep 6, 2019
  • Kulkukhan

    In your reference to the movie “Dope” where the guy says, “Am I Greek or a menace”, which part of this refers to prison and identifying with white or black culture? Is it the part where he says “or menace”? If so, u have succumbed to white standard and I can truly see black people getting upset with u. But if u were into black culture as u say, u would realize the first Greeks and first of everyone was Black. It seems as if u were just considered weird for listening to white music. A lot of us listen to or listened to white music but once u realize how white people have stolen that and corrupted music, for example how they’ve raised the frequency from 432 Hz, which is healing to being around 1000 Hz which is damaging, u obviously haven’t done your homework. What other way did u “act white”?

    Sep 7, 2019
  • Leah

    This totally speaks to me. As a nerdy, Black girl, I was always perplexed about accusations of trying to be white, when I knew more about Black history and culture than many of those questioning my blackness. I liked Pat Benatar and Queen Latifah; Essence and National Geographic, “Frazier” and “Moesha.”

    Sep 8, 2019
  • Bryant

    I think the acceptance of the ‘weird’ black kid is fairly new, and it’s a location thing. If you’re in a big city (Chicago, LA, San Francisco, New York, etc.), you’re going to be accepted. But if you’re in a smaller city, chances are you won’t be.

    I speak from experience. I lived in Tampa from 1982 (12 years old) to 1986 (16 years old) before I moved to Germany, and I was labeled a ‘wanna be white boy’ and an ‘Oreo’ by both Blacks and whites. Why? Because I read books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; because I did my homework (yes, I got those comments alot because of this); because I loved punk rock bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Fishbone, Dead Kennedys, and Bad Brains (and still do); because I loved (LOVED!!!) Doctor Who.

    When I moved back to the States years later, I lived in Omaha, then Denver, and it wasn’t an issue. I really do think this acceptance is a fairly new phenomenon and is definitely dependent on where you live.

    Oct 4, 2019
  • Anonymous

    This article spoke to be for the first I feel that I am not alone. Thank you ❤️

    Oct 11, 2019
  • Greta davis

    This actually reminds me of my husband. Hes struggled his whole childhood thinking how much he wished he was white, and loves “what society says is white, music, books, nerdy things… and emo things too” thank you for this article.

    Oct 17, 2019
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