More than just skin



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Are we the same or nah?

Who am I? Maybe I should be asking myself  “what” am I?

Am I Haitian, am I Caribbean, am I African, am I American or maybe African-American?

Am I black, am I colored, Am I a nigga; maybe I’m your nigga?

Should I be my brother’s keeper?

I am all of the above and a lot of you reading this are as well. But I’m not like you and you’re not like me. We’re all different! We’re not cut from the same cloth, we don’t have the same story, and we don’t have the same goals or aspirations. Your education is not the same as mine, we don’t see things the same way, our cultures are different, our values are different and your skin is lighter or darker than mine. Despite these differences, I still see myself in you; you’re still my brother or sister and maybe you’re also a brotha or sista.

I have a biological brother who is four years older than I am, just enough time to make us from different generations in my perspective. Even though we grew up in the same house, ate the same meals, slept in the same room and watched the same TV shows, traveled together and obeyed the same house rules, I believe we are completely different individuals!

I went to a different school, made different connections and have a different network. Our immediate environment was common but our lives outside of home were very distinct. I have two other brothers that are even older and much more different than I am. We’ve taken very different paths in life without losing sight of whom and what we are: Brothers. And that, we will never forget. We take the good and bad, we agree as much as we disagree but we’re brothers and that’s what we’ll always be. Our differences make us unique; they make us who we are without taking away from what defines us. We stick together as a family, we try to understand and accept our differences, we love and respect each other and our bond goes beyond our last name.

Not too long ago I asked myself a very simple and yet complex question. If family members can stay united and grow together despite their differences, why is it so difficult for our race to do the same? Aren’t we all brothers and sisters? For as long as I can remember I have been playing the role I was assigned without questioning or noticing the impact it had on my life or those around me. I realized sometimes, even when you think you’re part of the solution you can be part of a bigger problem.

One day while riding one of New York City’s trains, I experienced something that got me thinking about a different form of brotherhood. Allow me to explain.

It’s around 9:00 PM. I’m on my way home from work, wearing my brown penny loafers, dark slim cut jeans, my navy and brown Zegna belt matching my shoes, a plaid button down shirt with my top two buttons unbuttoned showing my crisp white V-neck undershirt that my 22-inch gold chain is shining over, my 6 buttons navy cardigan, my minimalist watch and my « beret » slightly slanted because that’s my swag.

Sitting next to me is a man. He is wearing his True Religion jeans sagging a little you can see his Polo boxers and his Gucci belt, a black T-shirt with leather sleeves and silver and orange graphics matching his crispy clean Foamposites. On his neck I see a 28-inch gold chain from which a diamond encrusted angel pendant is hanging, on his wrist a black Casio G-Shock. He is wearing a crocodile strap snapback and dark Gucci shades because that’s his swag.

As the train exits the underground, both of our cell phones ring (I’ll spare you the ringtone jokes).

Me: Allo! Oh comment vas-tu? (In my low deep and calm voice).

Him: YAO! WADDUP!! (In his loud enthusiastic voice).

His voice getting louder and he punctuates every sentence with « mah nigga » or « this bitch« . My voice is getting lower and my conversation less interesting since I was too busy listening to his. At this point I was more worried about « behaving » in public than enjoying a talk with a friend I haven’t heard from in a long time. Even though this man was getting dirty looks from most if not all of the passengers on the train, he was being himself and enjoying his conversation.

I will admit. I was part of those thinking those familiar thoughts: « Another black person making US look bad », « Look at him, a typical nigga ». « Hmmm, gad eta’l », « blak Ameriken sa yo », etc…

He gets another phone call…

Him: « Hey Chris, I’m not home right now; I’m back in NY. I have an interview on Monday with […] I’m on my way to Jamal’s actually. You should come thru bro…Come on! Jersey is not that far away. We’re turning up tonight!

My call ended a while ago, I paused my iPod so I can listen in on his next conversation. This time around it seems like it’s an old friend from college calling. Wait a minute, this nigga goes to school?! The conversation continues and soon enough it was more about project deadlines than the party. Turns out this guy is a well educated, professional working on some amazing projects to empower and help younger kids from his neighborhood!

The lesson here is that “A suit doesn’t make a man”. Actually, let me be more specific: « Stop judging black men by what they wear or what they look like ». 

How many times do we find ourselves making a distinction between them and us? How many times do we judge without knowing all the facts? How many times do we convict based on stereotypes? Are we honest enough to admit that we are hypocrites?

I know I was… I consciously went out of my way to not be seen as a “typical nigga”. I internalized everything everyone told me was bad about being a black man and my goal was to be different and by different I mean better. I made sure no association was possible between this man and myself until I realized the only thing that made us different that day was our choice in clothing. I realized not every man wearing “urban” gear is a thug, ghetto, ratchet or just a « typical nigga » up to no good and my perception changed.

As Negroes we tend to judge, categorize and even socially quarantine our own because they don’t behave like we think they should. The uneducated, the vulgar and loud, the so-called “niggas” are considered a disgrace. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who “talk white”, dress preppy, listen to classic rock and « ain’t ’bout that life » are considered sell outs, Uncle Toms or lames.

Why is being black a competition? What’s with the different levels of blackness? How do we decide to be black at one time and a nigga at another? Do we actually believe the world sees a difference? Maybe we are delusional because we are not so different after all. On that train, both of us were seen as the same misconception.

We need to unite and stay together as black people all the time. Don’t be black and proud only when a black president gets elected, or when a black woman becomes a billionaire. We need to come together and stay united as a race. Not only when a white man tells his mistress not to bring niggas to his games. Not only when a white man on neighborhood watch shoots a black child in a hoodie. Not only when those who swore to protect and serve put a man on a chokehold and slam his head on the sidewalk while he’s fighting for his last breath, sodomize one of our brothas with plungers, kill a black man for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time or shoot a young black man 41 times.

Be black and proud because you are well educated and financially responsible; because you are free to express yourself. Be black and proud because you listen to and understand Jay-Z as well as Francis Cabrel. Be black and proud even if you can’t play basketball or simply can’t dance. Be black and proud because you run your own business. Be black and proud because you’re a successful doctor or lawyer. Be black and proud because we recognize your crown on every canvas. Be black and proud because your ancestors were revolutionaries and you are from the first independent black republic in the world. Be black and proud because you’re different. And most importantly! Be proud because you are a citizen of the world and because you know that our bond is more than skin deep.


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