Existing in this world for 18 years, I’ve learned quite a few truths about this life. But more than anything, I’ve learned there are an infinite number of reasons to not feel good enough — for others, for yourself or for the world. Before attending college, I would actively avoid insecurity by deciding that I was wrong for feeling insecure. I’d listen to a superfluity of rap songs about beautiful women and pretend they were about me. After getting to college, my particular method was working just as well, until I hit a roadblock.
Since deciding to surround myself with people who look like me, namely Black people, I’ve developed a new insecurity: not knowing my family’s lineage. Before college, I had been around a lot of people who were simply Black-American.
Now, if I ask where someone is from, most times their answer is a distant country in Africa or the Caribbean — places I’m largely unfamiliar with. They then tell me where they live in America, pretending that they thought I meant the original country. Everyone’s home country is a source of pride for them, and I just haven’t experienced the same.
If someone asks where I’m from, I proudly claim Buffalo, New York. We have the Niagara Falls, which I don’t find particularly interesting, and we have Tim Hortons. But claiming Buffalo is never enough.
The follow-up question is always: “No, where are you really from?” The simple answer is I have no idea. I know a lot of my father’s family is southern, specifically from North Carolina. I know next to nothing about where my mother’s family is from. I know I’ve descended from enslaved peoples whose stories are nearly impossible to find. To know where you’re “really from” is a privilege.
I’m really from America. I like America to the extent that I can, but there is nothing about living here that would cause me to brag about it to other people. The full version of the national anthem references slaves dying. The voting system is largely confusing and essentially designed to exclude Black people and people of color. At this point, in order to have any semblance of where I’m originally from, I’d have to sell my DNA to a private company that has the right to keep it, and then read random percentages from my generalized traits — and pretend to be okay with it. I can’t do it.
Black Americans have a distinct culture. I would consider my particular take on our culture a mixture of loudly proclaiming who the best rapper of all time is and lots of 2000s dances that I learned out of necessity. Any R&B throwback cookout playlist offers a sufficient lens through which I’d summarize the positive side of my experience.
There’s just far more Blackness left to experience. The realization that there are Black people all over the world living in racially homogenous countries makes me feel robbed. Living here in a bubble, I feel robbed of a culture somewhere else in the world that should belong to me. I feel robbed of the chance to cross cultures. I feel robbed of deeper cultural understanding. I know I’ll remedy this by meeting more people and learning about their cultures, but I’ll never be able to connect to where I should’ve been from. I feel robbed of other music and art and friendships.
But above all, I feel robbed of the ability to whine.