There is a certain kind of weight that I have been carrying around. It would be selfish to think that I am the only one. I never thought that the very things that set me free would also weigh heavy on my chest and even shoulders from time to time. I often wonder if being free is a temporary state or utopian world we cannot reach. Some days I feel free while others, I am crippled by systemic limitations and ignorance.
Then it occurred to me that I find myself constantly explaining my blackness to every person ballsy enough to question its authenticity and ignore the reality that there is no one way to be black. This is especially true when I am caught liking something that falls outside of the “black” category. By this I mean, the very things that society has dreamed up for black lives to ensure they don’t matter.
I once purchased a Nirvana t-shirt long before it was trendy and every Instagram model decided to pair it with distressed denim and thigh high boots. Of course, no one would know my reason for purchasing the shirt. Afterall, they are not mind readers. No one would know that I've seen every Kurt Cobain documentary and I have read many articles and watched countless interviews. You could practically quiz me on his life & death. But here I go explaining myself, again.
Naturally, when one of my favorite Nirvana songs came on while at a bar with a couple of friends, I proceeded to sing at the top of my lungs while taking sips of my drink in between. I will never forget the look on my friend's face when he took notice of my singing. He was quick to ask "how the hell do you know this song?" over the music making sure that I heard him loud and clear.
I then felt that familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. You know, the sinking feeling you get when you’re about to explain yourself because what you claim to love is not exclusive to your blackness? Yeah. That feeling. Factor in being a black woman, and if we let society tell the story, there is no room for us to express our love of things that fall outside of the stereotypical roles we’ve been assigned.
Before I could even get a word out, he asked again even more obnoxiously this time "But HOW?!" For a moment, I had no answer to his question. I thought maybe if I washed down my answer with more alcohol I would never have to elaborate but his ignorance was sobering.
I stopped to reason with myself. “He is your friend, he doesn’t mean anything by it.” There I was in a bar making up excuses in my head to navigate a friend’s ignorance in order to save the night from going south. He went on to say "but you're black," with a puzzled look on his face causing me to feel even more uncomfortable. It seemed amusing to him to call me out for knowing the lyrics to “Teen Spirit”. Before he could dig any deeper for another ridiculous question, the music abruptly changed. The DJ began playing Nelly's Country Grammar—a true classic for anyone who adored music from the early 2000s. Even my friend who was a white male was a fan and while he wrapped his arm around me and began rocking side-to-side reciting the lyrics, I was tempted to pose the same questions.
Perhaps his ignorance was drowning in all the alcohol he had consumed but no amount of alcohol would mask the shame I felt. By not addressing the issue, I had kept his comfort intact. I realized in that moment that as a black woman, not only was I not allowed to freely express my interests for things that fall outside of the box I was so often trapped in, but there was a double standard that lingered over my head and maybe even introduced itself before I could utter my name. As an avid music lover, my feelings were hurt.
As I reflect on that moment, I can recall several more incidents that stripped me of the right to love anything that was not fixed to suit a black woman. I think music is for everyone’s enjoyment but for some reason white people are allowed to enjoy what is said to be “black music” at their own free will without a single question drawing upon the skin that they occupy but for me and many black people, we are scorned and quizzed when we express our love for “white music”. The hypocrisy is infuriating.
This leaves me to believe that the weight that I have been carrying stems from the pages in textbooks, encyclopedias and lessons that skipped over our history. How could we forget that the founding Godmother of Rock & Roll was a black woman? Sister Rosetta Tharpe contributed immensely to the genre. Our ancestors used music as a form of healing and to rejoice. They laid a foundation that we could build on but still today, it feels as though it is constantly being stripped right up from under our feet. It is lost in the crowds filled with white suburban kids who drove into the city to try on the culture for the night and amongst those that find time to tweet “do it for the culture,” all while dismissing countless things like our history and what many of these songs mean to us or the artist themselves.
A few months later I ran into this friend at a Kendrick Lamar concert. We did not see each other until the end of the show but he made it a point to ask me what I thought of it. I loved it, of course. I threw the same question his way and he replied, “I fucking love Kendrick!" then we parted ways.
That’s it. He loves Kendrick and there were no further questions as to how he related to the music or if he simply understands the underlying messages that he so often speaks on. Many of those messages being issues that directly speak to the black experience.
I remember thinking, all he had to say was “I love Kendrick,” while I had to attempt to explain myself for liking a song that wasn't categorized as “black music”. I felt that same sinking feeling I felt in that bar as people rushed towards the nearest exits while others stopped to claim their belongings from coat check.
I have been to many concerts, festivals etc... and I have seen predominantly white bands cover songs by black artists. I couldn’t help but think back to that time Beyoncé performed alongside the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Awards and how much of an uproar it caused amongst white viewers and commentators. I thought, damn, not even Beyoncé can enjoy country music? Well then, perhaps I am not worthy.
As a black woman, I am tired of having to explain myself when it comes to situations like this. We're allowed to like whatever we want. We don't owe anyone an explanation or anything else for that matter. So, to my fellow black girls, when your song comes on, sing that shit and if you must, dance.