Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

You Had An Identity Crisis and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

10 bucks says it’s not Slim Shady.

I’ve always been a bit curious about people who had these experiences with outcastism in school and life. Mostly because I never dealt with them so I struggled to understand how people managed to feel so rejected by so many groups of people for doing nothing more than existing. Or at least that’s how it’s always presented. This was brought to my attention via one of those iReporter segments on CNN called “Being the ‘Token Black Guy’”.

I have no intention of making light of anybody’s struggles. Mmkay? Mmkay. Some of you all clearly had a hard time growing up. But I suppose what shocks me is that I feel like I should have been a prime target for the difficulties of life and school but wasn’t.

Let’s break it down. One, I’m mixed. According to Oprah and Maury, I should have all types of identity issues and complexes. But I did identify as “Black” so maybe that mitigated that issue. Two, I was probably 5’1″ until I was 16 years old. Do you know what it’s like to have a little sister who TOWERS over you? No? I do. That sh*t sucked. But despite my lack of height, I was always one of the most popular kids in school AND managed to make and play on the basketball team at various age/grade levels. And I ain’t no baller. I can ball, but there’s a reason I decided to become a thespian in 10th grade. Despite going to school in arenas where I was definitely in the minority – and being in all of the smart classes – I never ever felt like a token. Not once can I ever say that I felt like I was the representative for all Blackness.

Or like you know how people who tend to have some sort of racial identity issue tend to have gone through some phase of trying to fit into some box of what they were expected to be versus who they felt like they were internally? Yeah, never saw that box.

Okay, there was that one time – at bandcamp – where I was asked to teach people how to rap. And in one of my classes in high school, it was assumed that I could sing. I didn’t even have to audition for the lead singing role in our French Competition Chorus (yes, I was in one of those). I lost the hell out of that job though once it was determined that while I had no shame, I also had no real singing chops. Or at least I couldn’t sing like Aladdin. They still put me out front though. You’ve got to let a peacock fly.

Even then, I still didn’t feel any type of way about it. You want me to sing? Word. Bet that up. Let’s do it. Then again, I’ve always been okay with being a stereotype. And I mean that literally. One of my mottos has always been “you waiting for a n*gga to show up? N*gga here now”. I almost relish in it at times. I swear if I had a stack of one’s to throw up in the air right now, I’d do it. While drinking Hennessey. Through a straw. Even I’m amazed that I don’t have any tattoos.

Maybe my hindsight just sucks. Perhaps if I were to do a little examination of my own life I’d find the places where I wasn’t quite “Black” enough for the Black kids or “white” enough for the white kids. But at the same time, I’m not sure that my own temperament would ever allow me to give a f*ck. You might do you, but I’mma do me. And you will respect my gully at the same time. Life has always been that type of party for me. No matter where I go, I get along with everybody and never actually worry about how I’m being perceived. Well, that’s not completely true – I ain’t going full Trinidad James on anybody at work. But I did get spotted out in public by a coworker once while I had on a bandana and looked like an extra from Menace II Society apparently. That coworker never spoke to me that day but did tell a select group of my other coworkers that he saw me out and was damn near startled at what he saw. Mama say mama sa mamaku sah.

I never experienced an identity crisis of any sort though my little sister did. She wanted to be peach like my mama when we were little then then turned into Tupac’s wife when she was in middle school. I just chalk that up to self discovery though interestingly, my high yella sister had NOTHING but dark-skinned friends. She had one friend who was more brown than dark, but she was still a full oil change darker than my sister.

So I’m just curious about that experience. I also wonder if either I was too oblivious that I wasn’t accepted by anybody so I just didn’t realize it? Or maybe it’s more simple (humblebrag coming in 5…4…3…2…1) when you’re one of the popular kids, none of this stuff matters. SGA El Presidente? Check. Homecoming court? Check. Honor Society? Check. Sports? Check. But that didn’t happen despite anything. I pretty much Obama’d high school – got in good with the white women and the homeys. And I was smart. I always felt like the smart kids were as popular as the jocks where I lived. In fact, we were. But that’s neither here nor there

I guess the larger point is, how do these identity crises arise? Of any sort? Where does the tokenism come from? Is it a self-fulfilling prophesy or is it real and I just somehow managed to miss that whole boat despite some of my personal characteristics. Like I wonder how much of this type of stuff we bring on ourselves or if its just personality driven, so popularity is the great equalizer? Me no know.

What do you think? Did you have any identity issues or tokenism crises? When did your sense of self manifest itself?

Who are you?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. TEN WILL GET YOU TWENTY aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

DMVers: Along with REMINISCE happening this weekend on Saturday, December 1, 2012 (RSVP for free before 11pm here: http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com), Panama will be a panelist at Busboys & Poets at 5th and K on Monday, December 3rd from 7-9PM. The name of the panel is The Black Man’s Wishlist moderated by Krystal Glass, and will discuss relationships from a male’s perspective, which is perfect for the holiday season! Head to krystalglassempire.com for more information and tickets!

Also, the homey Crystal Marie from AWordorThree.com reminded me that today is Giving Tuesday. What this means is that for all you folks who blew your wad on Black Friday, perhaps giving a few bucks to a worthy cause isn’t out of the picture. There are a ton of causes that organizations that can use any and all donations and help. No guilt trips or anything and I know most of us already do our parts in various ways, but if you can, then you should. I truly believe that. Just a thought…

Filed Under:
Damon Young

Panama Jackson is a co-founder of VSB and co-author of Your Degrees Won't Keep You Warm At Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime. He believes the children are our future and is waiting to find out if he is the 2nd most interesting man in the world.

  • brownskin

    lol this was kind of funny But i never really had an identity crisis either.
    Well except for this one time at camp(a long time ago) where I jus happened to be the only black person there. and be constantly asked if my hair was really mine and have to have a bunch of non black people ask to feel my hair

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

      “Well except for this one time at camp(a long time ago) where I jus happened to be the only black person there.”

      I’m sorry…I had to do this, LMAO!!!!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH619vxtNdo

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      you know what may be most interesting about my life, most folks dont realize i’m mixed. so when they find out they almost cant believe it. maybe i’m just too Black for my own good, an argument my mother has made on numerous occasions. perhaps if iw as more “mixed” id ahve more issues.

      *rubs chin*

      • http://www.alltherightquestions.com Witty Pseudonym

        count those blessings

      • SweetSass

        Which parent is white?

  • nillalatte

    what does it say about me that when someone asks who are you that I start singing the theme song to CSI? I’m just me. My cousin once wrote that she had an admiration for me because I pretty much decide what I’m gonna do and then I go do it — bad, good, or indifferent. I never have really viewed myself as others see me and I think its quite interesting to hear how I am perceived by others.

    My self actualization is ever evolving. Sometimes I actually care about what others think, most of the time I couldnt care less. not because Im trying to be an a-hole, but because I try very hard to live my life for me.

    ehem.. and I’ve been the token *crazy* white girl a lot and in different environments, but I dont dwell on it. I just think well someone gots to be that sometime. Better me than some fa real redneck a-hole :D

    fa serious doe.. I will be a happy mug to have internet service again coz playing from this damn phone is a mofo

    • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

      “…and I’ve been the token *crazy* white girl a lot and in different environments,…”

      Lol.

    • Rewind

      Black, white, purple, if I knew you in person, you’d just be “that nygga Nilla”.

      For all that’s right in the world, the ability to define yourself and actually justify that definition is rare and beautiful. Most people don’t have the conviction to pull it off. Yea, we listen to others sometimes and pay mind to what they think because we aren’t infalliable. But we earned the place we have and no one can take that away from us. So just touch your the top of your head and realize that crown is there for a reason.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

      “fa serious doe.. I will be a happy mug to have internet service again coz playing from this damn phone is a mofo”

      Looks like someone has their internet service throught AT&T- where it never stays on! *snickers*

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      i’m scared of the crazy white girl. can’t lie. i’d run if i saw a white chick going nuts. id automatically think id end up in jail.

      • A Woman’s Eyes

        “i’d run if i saw a white chick going nuts. id automatically think id end up in jail.”

        Proof of your Blackness

  • jennifer

    My guess is your not-give-a-f**k-ism elicited a level of respect off top. If you want acceptance from a group you feel ostracized from, or really want to identify as a particular thing but can’t for some reason, you might have an identity crisis, but the reason you didn’t was because you honestly couldn’t care less. Most people care… At least a little.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      i give a f*ck or so on occasion. i mean i’d never want to embarass my family. but that’s about as far as it usually goes. everything else is just icing.

      • A Woman’s Eyes

        Jennifer and PJack, boys and girls are socialized to care about different things.
        Girls are socialized to care about what other girls think, especially the ones they want to be friends with and be in inner circle with. And what mama thinks matters.

        Boys, not so much. They’re encouraged to be independent individuals even while with their boys. “F<ck you" "IDGAF" "Kiss my a$$" are statements of the independent.

        "She told me" "I heard" "What will she/my girls/my friends/the school think of me?" are said by those who seek approval from others.

  • http://Www.shay-d-lady.com Shay-d-lady

    I’ve definitely had my unpopular times and token experiences throughout life and career. Each one has made me stronger and more secure in who I am and I developed social skills that allow me to navigate most circumstances and situations. But I also have a pretty gives no f!cks personality so that probably helped me in dealing with those times

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      “But I also have a pretty gives no f!cks personality so that probably helped me in dealing with those times”

      Beyond not caring, I think what has helped me is becoming much more comfortable with letting people know I don’t care for their BS.

  • SororSalsa

    I was (and still am) the poster child for Things Black People Just Don’t Do…or so I’ve been told. From the time I was 3, I was the bean in the rice…ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, etc. If I wanted to do something, I’d just be the only brown girl in the room and I got used to it. My mom actually sent me to an HBCU for “diversity”. I never had an identity crisis about my being “different”.

    • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

      Well I took Ballet class too. So there were at least two of us. I didn’t figure skate, maybe because I was too busy being a sk8ter chick and boogie boarding.

      • http://Www.shay-d-lady.com Shay-d-lady

        Lol yeah I dabbled in ballet and the mall of memphis had an ice rink. Ice skating was pretty common and still is,
        …. Lol just depends on where you from and that there never really is anything that black people don’t do

        • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

          Yeah, back in the day Black people supposedly didn’t ski, then we didn’t swim, etc., etc. Lol

      • Rewind

        Val as a skater chick.

        Pics or it didn’t happen.

        I tease.

        • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

          :-)

    • http://jessicabwaites.blogspot.com JessieB

      I feel you, I was always the only “brown” girl at the ice skating rink and in gymnastics.

      • A Woman’s Eyes

        I loved to ice skate. Still do. When I was a kid working a summer job at a daycare and we had our field trip to the rink, it was my job to round up the children because all the adults couldn’t iceskate, thus couldn’t monitor the children or urge them off the ice when it was time go. (Everybody Black at that daycare)

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

      “My mom actually sent me to an HBCU for “diversity”.”

      LULZ at the irony. The only thing that’s diverse at HBCU’s are the levels of skin complexion!

      • Rewind

        And the levels of bullshyte and arrogance.

        Don’t ever forget that part.

        What’s the difference between the Zeta & the hippie chick at an HBCU?
        The number of drinks it takes before you here “I don’t usually do this”.

        What’s the difference between a Beta and a dude wearing lumberjack shirts and mocassins in the summer?

        The hours it takes to stop talking about them and change the conversation.

        Thanks Howard University for these valuable lessons.

        The hours it takes

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

          Uh…shots fired? LOL!

          • Rewind

            Every gotdamn day.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      see, i find that curious b/c everything you said are the ethings that i’ve always seen ninjas do. and i aint always lived in the blackest of environments. they’re activities.

      every ethnicity loves activities.

  • jojee

    i’m black and born and raised in arizona. identity crises are real.

    • http://herdiamondback.com Rubi

      Georgia over here. I think being educated and Black in the South generally paves “The Problem Path.”

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        Yeah, that’s about it. As you know, Southerners can’t read- or at the very least, don’t like to read. Books are kryptonite to them- at least until they need to pass an exam, LOL!

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

        see, i totally disagree with this. mostly b/c i’m Black and southern and neve rhad that problem. remember, i went to high school in Alabama.

        • chameleonic

          pff. [*smiling*] city boy…

          your feet arent ashy enough to be southern.

          • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

            cuz there are no cities in the South? lol

            • chameleonic

              cuz city south and rural south are nowhere near the same thing. and you know that. but at least its the same region…

    • nillalatte

      Girl, I just moved to AZ. Where are the black folks??? Shyt… I’m having an identity crisis trying to figure out what da hale I’m doing in this hotter than hell environment! 2 Years. My’sentence’ is 2 yrs… maybe 3… and I’m already counting the days! No II’m not wearing pink underwear either LOL

      • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

        Wow, NIlla, you actually moved to Arizona on purpose? That place is Tea Party central.

        • nillalatte

          I know, huh? I came for the job. I’m blessed and cursed at the same damn time. :D

        • https://twitter.com/#!/IluminatiNYC Todd

          Or more accurately the worse instinct “hands off my Medicare” instinct in the Tea Party. This is what happens when you have a bunch of White retirees and poor Latino young people in one state, with very few people from there from before, say, 1985. No one thinks of Arizona as where they’re from, and until that happens, things aren’t going to get right there.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        You are White- stick to your own kind! ROLL DAMN TIDE! *in typical redneck’s voice*

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

          ROLL TIDE!

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

            Leave it Panama to be the resident Tide fan on VSB, LOL!

            • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

              i come from a family of Auburn fans but have ALWAYS hated Auburn.

        • Datalore

          Panama isn’t the only one.

          ROLL TIDE!

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      No offense, but Arizona is whispered to be the state where Black people hate to be Black.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        Nah…that would be California, LMAO!!!!

  • http://herdiamondback.com Rubi

    I can relate and have been in the process of writing a “self actualization” piece for a month. Lol. It’s that bad. As a woman it is particularly difficult to be “the only one” because women bond differently and on a very personal level (i.e. hair, clothes, etc.). This all mainly took place in school based on my classes. I never thought I wasn’t Black, but contrarily grew angry that my peers didn’t see me in themselves, but as some “Other” in the Black realm.

    I suppose I had my first full “Black experience” when I went to college, (ironically it was a P.W.I). I also “went natural” in 2008, which led to mustering up even more confidence in myself as a Black woman… There’s more but I’ll stop. :)

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      “I never thought I wasn’t Black, but contrarily grew angry that my peers didn’t see me in themselves, but as some “Other” in the Black realm. ”

      Perfect explanation.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        Didn’t Mena say something similar to that very recently?

        • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

          Probably so, you know Mena be on it. :)

          • mena

            :-) Word!

          • mena

            Though Rubi articulated it in a way that i just couldn’t when Champ wrote his post. I never questioned my blackness i just always wondered why my black peers seemed to do so at mine or anyone else’s expense.

            • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

              i think that sucks and maybe being a boy makes it all easier. but that is just an odd experience to me.

            • A Woman’s Eyes

              ” I never questioned my blackness i just always wondered why my black peers seemed to do so at mine or anyone else’s expense.”

              Ever heard the term “pogo”? Explains the malice when some Black people questions anyone’s blackness. Crabs in a barrel? “You ain’t shyt but a n*gger I’m a n*gger and I’m going to remind you of this everyday. You ain’t shyt” folks.Not to be confused with friendly ribbing, playing the dozens amongst Black people who are familiar with each other in some way.

              • mena

                Never heard of the term pogo but def have heard of crabs in a barrel.

    • chameleonic

      word.

      going natural messed me all kinds of up though. i feel nude in public. this is my ACTUAL face and my skin and complexion and eyes and lips and hair. at home i am fully comfortable el naturel but i lose all sense of physical self in public. i assume im ugly bc im only comfortable natural and nude. so then i feel weird bc people stare mad hard at me and i have no confidence whatsoever because their concept of beauty is being dolled up.

      ‘imuglyimuglyimugly’….but i feel mad uncomfortable when im dolled up bc its not actually me. why do i need makeup to look like my own face…i get really snappy when it comes to my appearance. public opinion is assumed to conflict with my intimate opinion and its uncomfortable. i hate feeling oogled im entirely too insecure.

  • Cheech

    I was the nerd who got glasses at the age of 8. I was also very short and had a Nigerian name and was pretty bad at most sports black kids were good at. Pretty much it was very easy to rag on me. As I got older, I went from being called a coon to an Oreo all because I got good grades and stayed out of trouble. However with a growth spurt and an attitude gained from Baltimore county public schools, private school was a joke comparatively. To be honest it took me 21 years to fully be comfortable with who I am: a nerd with glasses

    • Rewind

      Amen to that.

      Had to fight all my life to just appreciate the fact that I am a nerd with glasses.

      But it was so worth it.

  • http://www.alltherightquestions.com T.Q. Fuego

    “I guess the larger point is, how do these identity crises arise? ”

    They arise when your parents move you from what felt like the PERFECT progressive town where there was just enough diversity (particularly among the black folks) to a backwards @ss ghetto @ss country town full of sheltered and ratchet folks who make you feel like being smart and (relatively )well-cultured is strange and unsexy.

    But with all that being said my “identity crisis” (I wouldn’t call it that) was very mild compared to most of the ones I hear about. It was far from traumatizing. It was more puzzling than anything. Perhaps developmentally stifling in some ways too, but I completely get it now and harbor no resentment about it. Life is a marathon anyway, not a sprint

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      I can relate. I don’t feel I was traumatized. Nobody pushed me in lockers, or beat me up or any of that stuff I see on TV. But without a doubt, I was constantly reminded that I was different.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        *insert short joke here*

        • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

          LOL, didn’t know I was short until college when someone pointed it out to me…

    • Rewind

      While that may be true for some, it doesn’t take moving or the difference in where you’re from to be displaced mentally. Sometimes people just want more than what they are told they can have, and when those around see you strive for that, they hold you back, because they want you to be stuck. I know that’s how it worked for me. I lived in a West Indian community all my life and to this day, I still feel like a fish out of water, because I CANNOT RELATE even though it is in my blood.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

        “Sometimes people just want more than what they are told they can have, and when those around see you strive for that, they hold you back, because they want you to be stuck.”

        Ah yes, the age old “crabs in a barrel” mentality. It’s way too prevalent in the Black community…

        • Rewind

          Indeed it is. But I realize that it’s in any community. Jealousy is just a way of life, no changing that. The rich want the poor to stay poor because they want to keep being rich. The majority race seeks to keep pushing the minority race back because they are afraid of what happens when they inevitably trade places. Jealousy and fear ruin good things.

          • Around the Way Girl

            “Jealousy is just a way of life, no changing that.”

            Word. This is where 99% of teasing and all that stuff comes from. When you understand that, it’s easy to treat people well and, consequently, be treated well in return. At least that’s been my story.

            • Rewind

              Exactly. It’s not a hard flaw to spot, but it is hard to deal with it.

        • A Woman’s Eyes

          Word, Perverted Alchemist, crabs in a barrel! Word to Oprah’s mean mama & strict daddy.

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1?feature=mhee Perverted Alchemist

            Damn *in 2 Chaniz’ voice*

  • http://www.alltherightquestions.com T.Q. Fuego

    Oh yeah, I forgot to add that you’re a people person by nature, and most people aren’t. That’s the most crucial factor in why you didn’t go through it at all. People always gravitate towards and accept individuals who are naturally gregarious. Those people’s social development is practically on steroids starting at elementary (and it snowballs from there on out). Introverts and people who just aren’t interested in socializing with others (besides a select group of friends) are more prone to identity crises and feeling like outcasts.

    • Alana

      Hmm, can’t say I agree. I’m definitely, a people’s person by nature. Yet, I wasn’t the popular one growing up. In kind of started when I got to college. But, then again, as I stated before, I can’t say I was confident in being the wonderful outgoing person that I am now, then. Did I just make your point? Ah well.

      • http://www.alltherightquestions.com T.Q. Fuego

        @ Alana- I don’t know. U could be right. Maybe it was the combination of him being gregarious and confident. I assumed those things went hand in hand, but I guess not necessarily…

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      That’s probably true since school is a petri dish of issues and the popular kids don’t tend to haveto deal with so many of those as long as you are cool with everybody. though it can depend b/c my sisters were very popular (we’re just that that type of family) but they had all types of sh*t to deal with.

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      Word, Jayjustmetheguy. Word!

      I will even argue that people who went to preschool and were socialized around different people end up with a social advantage by time they are in high school.