Once Upon a Time When I was Black

There was a tap on my shoulder as I lifted my son to the monkey bars. I turned to face a white woman, brown hair, slight build, friendly smile.

She gestured with her hand toward a small boy playing in the sand behind her and explained, “I just had to tell you this. My son and I have been studying about people’s origins. We’re planning to adopt a child from Korea soon.” She giggled.

I thought, trying to keep my smile genuine, why is she telling me this and why is she giggling.

She continued, “My son just asked if your son was African-American like in his book?”
She smiled some more; I smiled back and said something inoffensive, all the while thinking, “Whoa, who flipped the script!”

I was born a cute little bundle with light brown skin. The nurses took one look at me and wrote ‘black’ on their forms. Now, more than three decades later, little three year old white kids are being taught to call me African-American. I can only imagine the images that label conjures up in their little minds. For this little white guy at the playground about to get a Korean sibling, I’m sure he looked at my son and me and saw us arriving from Nigeria only a few days ago, happy to be making a new life in America.

I’m not sure who fought for this African-American label, but my name was not on the petition. To say the least, the label is confusing. There are Africans in my church who have made America their home in the last decade. Some of them are brown-skinned, some of them are white. To me, these families are the true African-Americans.

I’m Black. My father was Colored. His father was a Negro. His father was a slave, fresh off the boat from Edenton, NC. I’m a product of an illegitimate union of the west coast of Africa and the craggy hills of Scotland. That is my legacy, my reality. I’m not ashamed of it. No new label’s going to change that.

I hope and pray, that deep down, the changing of the race label for blacks in America is not an effort to find purpose or purity. There is only one pure blood available to all mankind through Christ, the Prince of Purpose for all the colored people (even the peach-colored ones).

Written in 2004