You Don’t Define Blackness

Often, throughout almost every black person’s life, they will be told at some point that something they do is “white” or not “how black people” would do things. Throughout society in 2019, we can more or less universally agree that this premise holds no weight anymore. The idea of you being black or not has nothing to do with the things you enjoy or the ideas that you put forth – sometimes. Tech, however, gives you a different plate to deal with. In jobs, your opinion is utilized to make sure that your employer can cover the “black demographic.” Between your coworkers, things you suggest or contribute to add a level of “cool.” Even on online platforms, you must fit a narrative that what you’re doing is either hood and black or dorky and black – no in-between.

Talking about the internet and how it treats racial identity is tricky, if not foolish. The internet is not a mass of single-thought humans, nor is one place on the internet a hivemind of thought. There are people of all different kinds of backgrounds, mentalities, creeds all across the internet. All of that, in itself, is good. Objectively good. The problem arises when things are normalized through the internet, when a lack of face-to-face interactions both benefits and removes layers of communication that would be had in real life.

Purely for the sake of this writing, let’s use Reddit as an example. On r/hiphopheads, a subreddit I devote a lot of time to, I am able to type and talk how I would in normal conversation. My actual self is not meant to be shielded and I know, with a subreddit made up of 70% white teens, I don’t necessarily need to care. Conversely, when I visit places like r/ooblets, r/pokemon, the defaults r/funny or r/pics, I feel a need to portray myself in a different manner because I know I will either not be taken seriously, or solely based off the merits of how things are phrased, my comment will not be responded to or added to the conversation. In short, this is codeswitching of the 21st century.

With codeswitching, I’m pigeonholed into behaving one way across multiple platforms and areas because of how people want to wrap up my identity into one defined term. It works in real life when I’m at work and then have a different persona than I would necessarily have at home. Is it cool? Not really. But every black person every single one is used to it. In Japan, there are two terms to describe the different faces people put on: honne and tatamae. In their rawest essence, honne relates to your true feelings and how you actually feel, while tatamae is how you want the public to see you; therein you change what you “believe” in when in public. It’s a loose correlation and possibly a reach, but the same can be said for how so many people of color have to traverse online forums or any place where sharing opinions, ideas, and work is expected. If I post something with “yall” or “aint” the expectation is that I’m like that everywhere all the time. If something contradicts that, or looks different from that persona that’s being imagined, it’s considered or cast off as fake. Either fake or lying or pretending to be “blacker than I am.” It’s a not-so-subtle attempt at discrediting both my blackness in one area or putting a tag on me that claims that I only pretend to be black while actually enjoying this thing that is stereotypically not-black.

All across the internet, black people are presented this same scenario. Where they have to coast around their own identity just to have what they said seen, or have their opinions added to the flame, or have people not take them for a gimmick. Codeswitching shouldn’t be a thing that has to be done, but we all realize our dream is not our reality. However, the culture online can be shifted to make it so these people with different walks of life, different experiences, don’t feel so helplessly out of place when doing things they enjoy. Let that person express their joy over the same thing you like however they please – you both already like the same thing.

The goal here isn’t to fool anyone or make them believe that something is what it’s not, but that a person – literally any person – is not held bound by your belief of what they should or should not care about. People from every walk of life have interests beyond just a small scope of what you’ve been shown. People from the projects are still able to enjoy the exact same things you do – and they’re no less themselves because of it. Stripping someone of their identity because it doesn’t pair up with what you’ve been shown or how you expect them to behave is like purposefully attaching blinders to yourself to prevent yourself from knowing more. Imagine – living a life where people can only behave a certain way because of the stereotypes that shroud their identity. They’re not fake for codeswitching, they’re not less than black for it, and collectively, we’re all over it.