I Like What I Like


There is a certain kind of weight that I’ve been carrying around but it is selfish to think that I am the only one who carries this. I know that I am not. I never thought that the very things that set me free would also weigh heavy on my chest from time to time, even my shoulders sometimes. I often wonder if being free is a temporary experience because some days I feel very free while other days I am met with roadblocks and ignorance.

Somehow, I am always explaining myself to others especially when I am caught liking something that falls outside of the “black” category.

I once purchased a Nirvana t-shirt long before it was trendy and every Instagram model thought it would be cool to pair it with distressed denim and thigh high boots. Of course, no one would know my reason for purchasing the shirt. No one would know that I've seen every Kurt Cobain documentary and have read many articles and watched countless interviews about him.You could practically quiz me on his life & death. But there I go again explaining myself.

Naturally, when one of my favorite Nirvana songs came on while at a bar with a couple of friends, I proceeded to sing along taking sips of my drink in between. I remember the look on my friend's face as I sung the lyrics. He was quick to yell "how the hell do you know this song?" over the music making sure that I heard him loud and clear.

I 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? 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, "but how?" For a moment, I had no answer to his question. I thought maybe if I washed down my answer with alcohol I would never have to elaborate but his ignorance was sobering.

Part of me thought that if I got drunk enough, I would never have to explain myself but before I could even process all of this information, he went on to say "but you're black?" As if black were a complete sentence and the sole answer to his questions. The music abruptly changed and in a sense saved me from having to forcefully provide an answer to his question. The DJ began playing Nelly's Country grammar--a true classic for anyone who adored black music from the early 2000s.

Even my friend who was white was a fan and while he wrapped his arm around me and began rocking side to side while reciting the lyrics, I was tempted to pose the same question to prove a point. Perhaps his ignorance was drowning in all the alcohol he had consumed or maybe I was making excuses for him. I realized in that moment that as a black woman, not only was I not allowed to express my interests for things that fell 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 depending on the room that I enter and who occupied the space. As an avid music lover, my feelings were hurt. The hypocrisy was infuriating. 

As I reflected on that moment, I could 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 exist in but for me and many black people, we are scorned and quizzed when we express our love for “white music”.

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 my history. How could we forget that the founding Godmother of Rock n’ Roll was a black woman? Sister Rosetta Tharpe contributed immensely to the genre. Our ancestors used music as a way to heal our souls and we still do to this very day through the art form. Our ancestors created a foundation that we could build on but still today, it feels as though it is stripped right up from under our feet. It is lost in the crowd filled of white kids from suburban areas who drive into the city to try on the culture and 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.

Fast forward to a few months later, when I ran into this same 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 the show. 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 understand the underlying messages that he so often speaks on. Many of those messages being issues that directly speak on 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 Hip hop or R&B for instance. I felt that same sinking feeling I felt in that bar. Later, I would go on Facebook to find another friend of mine share a very similar scenario about liking a specific band and being questioned about her taste in music confirming the double standard that is inflicted on us. 

I've been to many concerts and I've seen predominantly white bands cover songs by black artists but I couldn’t help but think back to Beyoncé preforming 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. The next time someone asks you how you know something that is not labelled “for blacks” simply say with a smile, “I like what I like.” 

Shantel Noel