Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

How To Be Unapologetically Black

On Tuesday, I was at Google’s New York City office for a panel titled “Breaking Through The Noise: Making Our Voices Visible, Scalable And Impactful.” For roughly 90 minutes, David Wilson (founder of The Grio), Tiffany Warren (Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer at Omnicom Group/Founder & President, ADCOLOR®), Lilly Workneh (Black Voices Editor at Huffington Post) and I spoke to the audience about our respective challenges and successes, and our thoughts about the state and direction of Black media. We each (obviously) had different backgrounds and stories, and even disagreed with certain subtopics, but we were all fully committed to and in possession of a grade of unapologetic Blackness that informs, inspires, centers, and directs the work we do.

(PC: Ayofemi Kirby: Instagram)

(PC: Ayofemi Kirby: Instagram)

Afterwards, I got the opportunity to finally meet Alex, Shamira, Natalie, and Brandon in person and hang out. We toured Google’s LEGOLand wing (Yes. The New York Google office has an approximately 2000 square foot LEGOLand.), had an exceptionally Black moment in a hotel elevator involving a nice White couple who assumed I was a doorman, and ate burgers and nachos. It was a beautifully Black-ass night.

During the panel, one theme repeated throughout the night is the reality that unapologetic Blackness isn’t easy. Perhaps its a bit more trendy now than it has been, historically. But we exist in a place where much of what we’ve been taught and most of what we encounter aims to prevent us from feeling that way, and getting to a place where you’re both unscared to be your Black-ass self and embracing of that Black-ass self can be an arduous journey. A journey towards freedom and rapture, but a painful journey nonetheless.

So, how exactly does someone get there? I don’t have a textbook to pull from to provide a universal answer, but I do know what has seemed to work for me.

1. Give Blackness a positive association

This is the first and most important part. In order to be unapologetically Black, you have to be proud of and unembarrassed by Blackness. And this doesn’t just mean embracing yourself. It means removing negative connotations possessed with entities associated with Blackness. You can not be unapologetically Black if you still assume that if something happens to be “Black” — whether its a public university or a publication or a person — its inherently less than. Perhaps you never gave Blackness the benefit of the doubt before. Well, now you need to start.

2. Surround yourself with people connected to and in favor of unapologetic Blackness

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have parents who instilled this in me pretty early. But I recognize that many of us just haven’t been around enough Black people who believe unapologetic Blackness is a thing to be desired. And, if you’re attempting to get there yourself, it’s vital to seek out people who are either already there or down to make the journey with you. Basically, remove all people named Taye and Stacey and Clarence from your crew.

Alex, Natalie, and Shamira in a pavilion inside the Google offices (PC: Alex Hardy Instagram)

Alex, Natalie, Shamira, and our LEOLand tourguide in a pavilion inside the Google offices (PC: Alex Hardy Instagram)

3. Give negative infinity fucks about what White people think

Now, this doesn’t mean you stop caring about what the White people you personally know and like/love think. Nor does it mean to release all basic human kindness and dignity. If you see a White person about to get hit by a truck, don’t say “Man, fuck what that White dude who doesn’t know he’s about to get hit by a truck thinks.” Say, “Hey man who happens to be White, there’s a truck coming and it might hit you if you don’t move.

Instead, stop crafting your thoughts and actions around what White People (collectively) might think if you thought or acted a certain way. Step outside of the White Gaze, and stay there.

4. Embrace Blackness…even Blackness that happens to be unlike your Blackness 

Your Blackness can not truly be unapologetic if it cherry-picks; deciding to withhold love from other unapologetically Black people.

From “I’m In Love With Black People Who Love Being Black People. And Love Black People.” Because everything said below could also be applied to the unapologetically Black journey.

Your love for Black people doesn’t mean shit if it doesn’t include Black women. Or Black men. Or Black homosexuals. Or Black atheists. Or Black Christians. Or Black…you get my point. If your love subjugates and discriminates, it’s not love. It’s vanity.

Naturally, you can not love every single Black person. But while you can — and probably should — put conditions on that love based on what that particular Black person happens to do if it directly damages other people (sexual assault, murder, putting kale in the potato salad, etc) you cannot put conditions on that love based on who that particular Black person was born to be. And still claim to love us.

Of course, there are Black people who believe that making Blackness inclusive is inherently anti-Black because it “weakens” us. Whatever and whoever doesn’t fit their ideal of what makes a stronger Black community — whether its feminism or atheism or being Christian or being queer — are cancers that need to be eradicated. But what they don’t get is that this journey includes all of us. If it doesn’t, there’s no journey. No community. No love. No point.

VSB fam from right to left, Shamira Ibrahim, Natalie Degraffinried, Brandon Harrison, Alex Hardy, and I. Also pictured is Gina Cherelus of Reuters and a guy whose name I just can not remember right now.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • KB

    I so love this pic. She is way unbothered by the officer and his rifle. I would have loved to listen to her stories.

  • Brandon Allen

    I also could not remember his name.

    • You guys are breaking that poor kid’s heart.

      • Cleojonz

        IKR? Checking VSB waiting for the write up and and the name check only to see they don’t know who he is lol.

  • One of the things that isn’t cool about Kansas is that there are so few safe spaces to go out and do hoodrat things with my friends. Maybe that is why I like VSB so much. You guys are probably going to get me shot by some redneck cop, though.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      #RIPCogito t-shirts on deck already but I’m not passing them out til 2039 so you got time bruh.

      • Thanks, bruh… I think…

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          <—Grim Reaper Jr.

          Nah seriously, your exit on this planet will not be by a redneck, a cop, or a combination of the two.

          • There have been incidents in the past that make me wonder.

            • Charles Johnson

              bump all of that nonsense fam, this one girl who i’m trying to have sit on my face told me to not to speak of such ill things because you have the power to speak them into existence. keep hope alive!

              • LOL. I see what you did there.

                • Charles Johnson

                  hahahahaha

                • brothaskeeper
            • cryssi

              Pray that you die like a white american, unhealthy and over 70, but also still unapologetically black as f*ck.

            • brothaskeeper

              Bruh, you might as well slide on down to H-town, or points south. I never been to Kansas, but any whole state that doesn’t have a beach cannot be socially conducive. Plus, Texas produces the thickest womenfolk on Earf.

            • RewindingtonMaximus

              I can understand that. Believe it or not, my heart has stopped beating twice. I’ve been shot, stabbed, hit by cars, and almost died of asthma attacks. I have no idea what my exit will be, and I know you don’t know yours…but my hope would be on fair terms, never at the hands of someone else. I’ll keep the faith for you man.

              • We will do what we can until we can’t. Stay up.

      • veryaveragebrotha

        LOL I’m mad you only gave this man 23 more years – I guess it’s the thought that counts

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          I was just being conservative, he’s got a kid and he needs to keep it going as LOOOOONG as possible…but I’m saying the t-shirts are on fleek tho

    • DBoySlim

      I hear Lawrence is ratchet. Express yourself.

      • Lawrence is a young White person’s town. I can only stomach a few hours.

        • DBoySlim

          My brother lived there some years ago. I couldn’t do it.

        • Bushido Brown

          I only go to Lawrence for the home KU games. Not much else up there for me.

          • You in KC, too?

            • Bushido Brown

              Yep, over in the Overland Park area

    • Brandon Allen

      You’re in Kansas? Stay strong man.

    • KB

      My family used to live in Hertington and Junction City back in the early 90s.

      • Beautiful night skies out there. Not much else, though.

      • mrs.BAP

        I was born there… Haven’t been back since I could walk, but I that’s not a bad thing from what I understand.

    • fxd8424

      You in Kansas? My condolences. I thought you were in NY.

  • TJ

    #3 is key!

  • Rayjulian85

    I wish you hadn’t announced the meet up so late. I would’ve loved to have met you guys! Also, it’s become modus operandi to be as unapologetically black as possible for me. ESPECIALLY in white spaces. Who gon’ check me boo??

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Technically…for at least VSB in the tri-state area…we could work on an official meet up out here…this way people can stop being strangers and actually shake hands.

      • Brass Tacks

        ..

      • Rayjulian85

        If you’re volunteering to plan…

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          ahhhhhhhhhhh…….i don’t wanna. But I want to see it happen.

          I’ll do it only if people HELP me…it was never easy planning it before.

      • We need to get that going again.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          I’m scared to take point on this. I want someone else to do it.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    1) VSB fam is a beautiful fam. Always.

    2) Being unapologetically Black is hard. So hard. But at least here is one place we can let it all hang out.

    3) Champ, totally forgot you mentioned on FB about your meet up after this…hopefully there is a next time.

    4) Let’s hope we can keep VSB fam growing.

    • -h.h.h.-

      i was going to come, but i didn’t get out of work late.

      figured these are over 30 folks, so their bedtime is 10:30

      • Brass Tacks

        Buuuuuurrrrn!

      • Shirley Rojas

        ?my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….two days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here!!b89????? http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsTime/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:::::!!b89…..

      • brothaskeeper

        I was in bed by 9:30 last night. Missed out on the cook-off.

        • Michelle Warren

          ?my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….two days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here!!b735????? http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsCrowd/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:::::!!b735……

        • Akikoismith

          ?my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….two days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here`!b295????? http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsBest/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:::::`!b295……

      • Dorthyepeeler4

        ?my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….two days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here`!b36????? http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsMoney/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:::::`!b36…..

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I totally spaced on it, I was sick that night anyway.

        But we gonna work it out homie, we gotta find a way to get it done.

  • Siante

    Shamira’s skin is poppin’ (especially for New York, in the winter) Must be the Vaseline.

  • fxd8424

    “Instead, stop crafting your thoughts and actions around what White People (collectively) might think if you thought or acted a certain way.”
    If WP knew what I really thought, they would be really, really scared of me.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Child…you and me both. He ll, I’d be scared of me.

      • fxd8424

        Girl, yes. I’m scared of me now.

  • NoGames

    You can not be unapologetically Black if you still assume that if something happens to be “Black” — whether its a public university or a publication or a person — its inherently less than. <— Yes, YES, and YASSSSSS! This is why I rock VSB …You state so plainly what I feel! Thank you!

  • Brass Tacks

    “…had an exceptionally Black moment in a hotel elevator involving a nice White couple who assumed I was a doorman,”

    Last year, I took a group of Black and Hispanic youths to Philly, and while we were eating lunch in the city, we kept being approached by a smattering of nice White people, who thought we were a traveling AAU basketball team. *sh t happens*

    “and a guy whose name I just can not remember right now.”

    The most unintentionally comical flame I’ve heard in awhile.
    I really need to get to NY. Hang out near a bodega, eat some wings, and meet a chick with an accent and razors under her tongue. Im sure ill stick out like a sore thumb, cause country. But Im sure that’ll work in my favor.

    • Quirlygirly

      You know us up North girls like country dudes!

      • LadyIbaka

        Oh my God. Really. Mmmkay. ?

        • Quirlygirly

          Lol..Noooo! I don’t mean it like that *mumbles imma go sit my tail down somewhere.

      • brothaskeeper

        Born and raised in Souf Carolina. But spoken for. Jussayin.

    • fxd8424

      At least they didn’t run from you like a group of whites in town for some convention did some years ago. Not sure where they were from. They walked out of their hotel to shop and sight see no less, ventured over to Market Street in a city which is maybe 44% black and were freaked out of their minds by all the black people on Market Street. They were last seen running back to their hotel.

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