Too Black for White People and Too White For Black People

Derrick Hoard, LMFT on Sep 04, 2021 in Mood and Feelings

I am about to describe the process of "othering" as it occurs in the black community. Focusing primarily on "The Black Experience" does not mean that this process doesn't happen with other races, characteristics, or identifying features. However, there is not much mental health content geared toward Black people and even less geared toward this specific demographic. 

I have had to deal with a significant amount of internalized racism and hatred for black women and then towards black people in general. I used to believe that black people were ignorant, lazy, and frankly deserving of many of the situations they found themselves complaining about.

I thought that their problems were caused and maintained by the choices I watched them make with my own eyes. These beliefs aren't something that I created in a vacuum, tho. Traumatizing experiences with black people in my childhood heavily influenced that point of view.

The truth is that for some black people, their first experience with anti-blackness is from individuals within the "white recognized cis-hetero dominant black community."

By "white recognized cis-hetero dominant black community," I mean black people who have internalized a bastardized and frankly humiliating definition of what it means to be black.

And as much as the white recognized cis-hetero dominant black community would like to deny it, "teasing" people for how they behave, especially when you label that behavior as "white", does not garner feelings of inclusion or acceptance.

Telling people they are "too sensitive" when they respond appropriately to your emotional attacks does not help them develop a strong sense of self and identity.

Denying that these experiences even occur and rejecting the idea that they can have long-term impacts on one's thoughts, feelings, and actions is tantamount to victim-blaming and gaslighting on a cultural level.

While I have had the privilege of working through many of these issues in therapy, other black people with similar lived experiences may not have access to the same resources.

Instead, we have a chorus of black Americans that tells them to "just get over it". And by "it" they mean the treatment in their youth by other black people that conditioned them to see the world as they do.

As a child, I blamed black people and black people only for how they treated me. As an adult and licensed family therapist, I now understand the influence and legacy of slavery on the black family unit and how it distorted if not outright destroyed any functional communication patterns within it.

With that being said, several dynamics continue to play out in black families across America, and it is impossible to discuss them because we are victim-blamed, told it isn't a black experience, and instructed to "just get over our trauma".

To everyone who is about to become defensive, say "you're too soft", or otherwise attempt to disqualify the content of my lived experiences.

Thank you for proving my point.

There is a process that black families engage in that (at best) can be seen as a way to protect the family's identity and, at worst, a correlational factor in the development of severe mental illness such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Scapegoating ensures that any family member that might threaten "the way things are" or "cause a problem" is identified, isolated, and subjected to humiliation to get them to conform to a way of existing and behaving that is comfortable for everyone else.

It consists of a complex interaction of bullying, teasing, apologizing, forgiving, forgetting, validating, and gaslighting that the entire family participates in with varying degrees of guilt and awareness.

Scapegoating a family member or members as "the problem", "the identified patient", or "the crazy one" gives the family someone to compare themselves to and say, "at least I am not that bad."

It also allows the family to blame the scapegoat when things go wrong, even if they have nothing to do with them.

Scapegoating can begin at any time and only requires that the primary caregivers for the child identify a physical characteristic or behavior that threatens the definition of "black" within their family.

The truth of the threat to the family's internalized definition of "blackness" need not be real, only the perception of it.

Historically, it makes sense. In the context of being enslaved-the people who enslaved us lived in constant fear of slave rebellions. The enslavers often came up with arbitrary classification systems (much like those found in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental illness) to identify potential slaves who might pose a problem in the future.

The problem for the enslaved, besides slavery, was that each enslaver had their own system and way of running their plantation.

When bearing children into slavery, it was essential to mold a child quickly into a version of themselves that reduced the likelihood of drawing the ire of the enslaver.

Without a doubt, the behavior that caused the most problems for enslaved black people were rebelliousness, defiance, and free thought.

Characteristics that were "not black" as being "black" meant being submissive.

Through a complex interaction of corrective actions, including whuppings and social shaming, these potential problem children were subjugated and had any rebelliousness, also known as being a normal child, beat out of them.

This strategy didn't outright prevent black children from being targeted by the enslaver, but it reduced the likelihood.

By "picking on" "rebellious black children," black parents were doing their best to ensure their children would survive.

No one could ever blame them for the decisions they had to make back then under those extraordinary circumstances.

The definition of "being black" was to be quiet, submissive, and compliant, which is not the normal state of human beings.

By "instilling discipline" into perceived "disrespectful" children, the black community ensured its survival and traumatization for generations to come.

This same process occurs in black families today. It scapegoats black people who do not fit the family definition of what it means to be black within the white-recognized cis-hetero dominant black community.

It is accomplished through a conscious and unconscious process called "othering". Othering is when individuals or a group are defined as NOT fitting into a dominant social group.

Black people, in general, are already "othered" in American society due to the legacy of systemic racism and slavery in America. Black people have long since had to rely on strong communal bonds to remain safe in American society. We use businesses like barbershops and hair salons to share our stories and churches to express our pain. We all join together in the shared experience of being black in America.

Unless you are not black enough.

Specifically, alternative black people are ostracized from and bullied by the dominant black community because that community lacks the requisite experiences, empathy, and understanding to accept them.

People familiar with being excluded in this way often say, "I was too white for black people and too black for white people."

The phrase "black people are not a monolith" gets thrown around quite a bit, and not many people understand what it means. Seeing black people as a "monolith" means that you cannot see them as the unique, dynamic, and ever-changing people they are. Black people are diverse individuals, each with their own tastes in music, how they present themselves, spiritual beliefs and more.

Usually, black people have to deal with being seen as a monolith by other races that cannot accept that a black person might listen to Paramore, participate in what is seen as a traditionally white subculture, or not be "from the ghetto". These people will say that "oh you don't act black" or "you're not black. You're an oreo," or "only white people play guitar hero".

However, some black people have to deal with being seen as "too white" by other black people. They deal with questions and comments such as "Why do you act so white?" or "Why do you dress that way?" Some are physically assaulted, emotionally criticized, and humiliated by supposed "friends and family" for behaving in ways they define as "gay" or "not black enough", even and especially as children.

Make no mistake, the behaviors that the white recognized cis-hetero black family members engage in are indeed abusive. To the abuser, the abuse is justified because they don't see it as abuse. The "not black enough" family member is dehumanized and seen as a problem to be solved, not a person expressing themselves in unique and often beautiful ways.

Now, the problem is that many people in the cis-hetero dominant black community will say that I am just dramatic and that it isn't as serious as I am making it out to be.

They would argue that teasing is normal in families and that I am just too sensitive, can't take a joke, or perhaps suffering from some form of mental illness. They might even begin to discuss how this entire generation of people is too soft and wonder whether or not I had any strong male role models in my life.

This type of disqualification of experience often occurs in spaces that purport themselves to be "Black Affirming". These are spaces where it is supposed to be safe to share your black experience without fear of being critiqued or ridiculed-spaces where we all share what it means on an individual level to be black.

When the experience of being "too white for black people and too black for white people" is brought up in these spaces, it is immediately mocked and shut down by individuals who would agree with the sentiment had they not been brainwashed into believing that they somehow deserved the teasing and mockery in their youth.

Without fail a guilt ridden "white recognized cis-hetero black person" will always show themselves and make such irrelevant points as "it goes both ways", "y'all was acting superior", or "this is an experience that happened to you, but this is not a black experience".

These individuals cannot conceptualize the experience of being rejected by the in-group because they are part of the in-group.

There must be room at the table for all experiences to heal intergenerational trauma—even those we have inflicted upon ourselves. To start healing, we have to start talking.

I'll go first. This is my "black experience."

As a child, my earliest memories include being bullied by black children, adults, and family-most bizarrely my single-parent mother.

My mother had a penchant for beating me mercilessly for such minor infractions as: "shaking my leg", "not making eye contact", and "making the same mistakes over and over again". Mistakes that she could not teach me how to correct because she made the same ones herself. The inability to understand that you cannot teach a lesson you have not learned is the main reason why individuals from the white recognize cis-hetero dominant black community spank their children.

It is challenging to speak about the experience of being spanked as a child in black spaces because many black people choose to identify with the abuse and their abusers, mainly because the abusers were their primary caregivers or people who claimed to love them.

They have significant difficulty saying, "My parents did the best they could AND it was not good enough and has resulted in lasting physical and emotional scars that cannot be healed unless I re-evaluate what I think it means to raise a child.

"I will continue to pass on this intergenerational trauma until I address it." It is much easier to say "I was spanked as a child and I turned out fine". To reinforce their delusion, they must violently attack any point of view to the contrary.

In addition to this physical abuse, my mother's verbal lashings were on par with her physical ones.

She had an uncanny ability to zero in on any insecurity and exploit it until I no longer wanted to look at myself in the mirror.

Yelling is abuse, too, and it is something that my mother and most of the dominant black community do as if it is a functional form of communication.

Many cis-hetero black women and their defenders will state that I am blaming "all black women" and weaponizing my trauma.

They will say that other men have been through a similar experience and did not come out "hating black women".

Their sentiments are to be expected because they lack the credentials, education, and lived experience to understand how traumatic events affect the body and the mind.

They are ignorant of the defenses and constructs a child's mind will build to protect itself and survive. Also, many of them are guilty of doing the same things to their children right now.

As much as cis-hetero black women who hide behind the banner of being "The Most Oppressed" want you to think it isn't possible, black women can be oppressors too and overwhelmingly, they oppress their children because it is often the only way that have access to exercising anything resembling real power.

I was subjected to this oppression from the time I was able to perceive myself as a person until she stopped beating me when she realized it wouldn't work anymore.

It was ongoing and relentless abuse during the formative years of my life. This experience alone and in and of itself is enough to explain why I harbored such hatred for black women before I began healing.

As this occurred at home, I was also bullied by various black pastors and preachers in The Black Church.

For some black people, the black Church is not an amazing, loving, and accepting environment. It isn't a place to find community, support, and comfort. To some, "The Black Church" is a circus of adults yelling made-up words, loud, repetitive music, and weekly reminders of how from dust they came and from dust they will return.

As much as people don't want to admit it, Christianity is one of the tools of the master concerning the transmission of intergenerational trauma within the black community.

Back to mother again, one recurring accusation toward me was that I acted like a "devil" child. To her, everything was the devil. Videogames, music, and movies were all tools of "the enemy". She used to tell me quite often how the devil lived inside of me, and she needed to get him out by beating me.

She found validation of this belief at the many churches we visited when I was younger. These churches place great emphasis on conformity to interpretations of Christianity rooted in submission to white supremacy. The black church is also where I interacted with the most cis-hetero black men in my life, and they seemed to be highly concerned with making sure that I wasn't gay. They offered advice for me to "toughen up", "not cry so much", and "be a man".

It has always struck me as strange that white recognized cis-hetero dominant black men cling so desperately to a definition of masculinity so heavily influenced by white supremacy that having a penis becomes their entire personality. These are men who are so fragile that they are unable to eat a banana in public.

These are men who will scream about how a "woman cant teach a man how to be a man", but whose own teaching ability consists of shouting the same information in a successively louder tone until by sheer force of trial and error their unfortunate pupil finally comes to the solution on their own.

Men who would scold me for standing with my hand on my hips or tell me to look at my nails and then hypothesize that the way I looked at them meant I was gay.

I remember Pastor Mike, a self-proclaimed and I quote, "recovered homosexual", who told me that "men shouldn't tattle tale", after I complained about some of the sexual games the boys were playing. In my adulthood, his response makes disgusting sense.

School was no different. I did NOT sit with the black kids at lunch because, for some reason, my existence caused quite a violent response in the black children around me. I was beaten up at least twice a week, by black boys and girls. The reasons for the beatings from kids around me were just as confusing and confounding as those I received at home. Sometimes it was because I was "acting white", sometimes it was because someone was convinced that I was "gay", and other times I think it was just what people did. I was in the gifted program when I was younger, and somehow, being smart was also a betrayal of my blackness and deserving of ridicule and abuse.

Even my romantic endeavors with white recognized cis-hetero black women have failed and the common reason always came down to being "too sweet", "not aggressive enough", and even once that I was "obviously gay" and just hadn't recognized it yet. My first positive experience with someone of the opposite sex was a white girl who did not think I "acted gay", did not believe I "talked white", and generally accepted me for myself.

Although unremarkable to most, if you understand the backdrop of my existence at the time-you can see how I may have developed a complex to seek out similar validation from similar women.

That is why the question "Why do black men date white women" is so stupid to me. First off, I don't know who has that much time to sit around and ask themselves why someone else made the decision they made and be angry about it. Secondly, it is because we are talking about men who have had more negative experiences than positive with cis-hetero black women in the formative years of their lives.

If I touch a stove and it is hot, I am probably not going to touch the stove again. In fact, I am probably going to avoid anything that reminds me of a stove. The aversion to "touching stoves", is something that is cultivated in our youth. It is a lesson we never need to learn again.

Similarly, these black men who "only date white women" and have reasons that are "anti-black woman" have had experiences with black women that have been like "touching a stove," and the experience has convinced them that all stoves are hot and will burn you.

For some black men dating white women is a preference and for some, it is a literal trauma response. They associate black women with all the pain and suffering they experienced as a child. This association is not a conscious process. And if no one ever validates and speaks to that experience, how are they supposed to form a corrected view of black women?

One of my biggest frustrations as a licensed couple and family therapist is watching former nerds who have assimilated into the white recognized cis-hetero dominant black culture attempt to give out self-improvement advice to adult men who have had a similar experience.

They center their advice around blaming the nerd for not being "groomed enough", "not having social skills", and generally just being weird.

It is a furthering of the scapegoating, victim-blaming, and othering I discussed earlier. "Groomed enough" to whose standard? Social skills to whose standard? Weird to whose standard? The standard of the cis-hetero dominant black culture.

Instead of asking the culture to be more accepting, these men do nothing but repeat the culturally sanctioned process of shaming these men to conform.

It is especially egregious when this comes from the mouths of a so-called "black nerds", when in reality it is just someone who has decided to deal with their "othering" by conforming to the standards set for them by the dominant community.

There is a certain level of "nerd" that the white recognize cis-hetero dominant black community will allow, and one way to signal you are in-group is to attack your former family.

While I am focusing on the experiences of black men, I recognize (unlike the white recognized cis-hetero dominant black community) that gender is on a spectrum and that many non-male identified individuals in the alternative black community have struggled with similar experiences with varying degrees of severity.

As someone who identifies as a man, I do not wish to speak on those experiences as it is not my place. However, I am excited to open up my platform to conversations with individuals from those different perspectives.

We have in common though a shared experience of being rejected by what is accepted as being "black."

That sustained rejection across various areas of our lives has led us to navigate the world in a way that the in-group cannot understand. That sustained rejection also fuels the adverse responses we have toward the dominant black community.

Not to mention that some of us were just born different. There is a spectrum of black neurodiversity, and it goes utterly unrecognized in black culture. Black neurodiverse individuals must go through absolute hell and survive a childhood full of pain because the cis-hetero dominant black culture sees the symptoms of their neurodiversity as further evidence of their "non-blackness" and aims to beat it out of them.

Many autistic/adhd/nuerodiverse black people are undiagnosed or even more frightening have been subjected to such hostile corrective measures in their youth that they develop exaggerated behaviors that, to a white savior, look like schizophrenia. This misdiagnosis is a problem I will go into in greater detail in the future.

I have decided to stop censoring my content and platform to be palatable to the white accepted cis-hetero dominant black community and instead welcome and embrace those in the alternative black community, including black nuerodiverse and mixed-race individuals. I remember who I sat with at the lunch table. I am tired of having to code-switch in "pro-black" spaces because I am not saying the right things to be included. I am tired of watching other black creators springboard themselves to popularity by making fun of the part of my community who wear bonnets, or the part that doesnt think it is the end of the world if your shoes aren't perfectly white and struggle with social skills as defined by the cis-hetero dominant black community.

I am tired of consuming black media where my people are the butt of all of the jokes.

I am tired of having to center everything around a black experience that I do not identify with.

Derrick Hoard is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in , WA.

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