I Found Out I Was Black, And I’m Still White

I found out I was black, and I'm still white

Photo by Yamon Figurs via Unsplash

A few years ago, I found out I was black.  For most black folks, their blackness would have been self-evident, part of who they were from the moment they were born.  But for me, this girl in a white body, who had always identified as white – or more correctly had not consciously identified as anything since so much of American society sees whiteness as normative, not racialized – this information was new, a new way of seeing myself, of understanding who I was in a world.

It was also something I could forget, put aside, take up when it served me.  I never pulled a Rachel Dolezol, thank goodness, always being sure to say I identify – and am identified – as white, but I still can pick up this black identity when it suits me and shelve it when it doesn’t because it doesn’t reside in my body.

No one touches my hair when I’m out in public.  We don’t do that to white women.

I’m still praying, thinking, working, talking, listening through what it means to be a woman whose ancestors were black, whose ancestors “passed” and became white, whose ancestors chose whiteness – for what I can only know to be powerful, necessary, safety-filled reasons – and so chose that identity for her.  I will probably be building up and tearing down these ideas for the rest of my life.  I’m okay with that.

How could I not be okay with carrying the weight of questions when I only carry blackness for the strength and gift that it is? I don’t carry the weight of the segregation, the oppression, the dismissal. I don’t carry it with the stereotypes about intellect or athletic prowess. I don’t carry it with the assumption of criminality or promiscuity. I don’t carry it with any of the awfulness of things that come from other people and are laid against black bodies.

So today, in my own white body that courses with the blood of courageous, flawed, gorgeous black men and women, I speak loud this question – Fellow white people, what burden are you laying against our black brothers and sisters? What prejudices? What assumptions? What misguided responsibility for racism are we placing on their backs?  

And will you join me in shifting all of that weight onto our own bodies? Will you stand with me as we accept the fact of racism as OURS to mend? Will you let your black brothers and sisters lean into you with their burdens, let them slide some of that heaviness onto your shoulders?  Will you? 

I hope so, I pray so because when we white people shoulder this burden, when we lift it onto our own white-clad bodies, we can sometimes put it aside.  That’s not possible for our friends who walk in brown, yellow, black, or red skin. . . Not ever.

It wasn’t possible for my ancestors, and so they took up whiteness as their shield. The least I can do now is put my own body out as a shield for those who do not, could not have that choice.

I honor, respect, even understand my ancestors’ choice.  But what a shame they had to make it.

 

  • Kara

    Me too. I could have received a NAACP scholarship towards college expenses. I’m glad that as much as I needed help in those years learning to live without a mother that I didn’t capitalize on my ancestry.

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      I wouldn’t feel comfortable even claiming that having black ancestors was going to help me capitalize on anything, I guess. The weight of oppression on people of color is to heavy for me to see any “use” of that history as being equal to the profound advantages I have as a white woman.

      Glad to meet you, Kara.

  • This is such a powerful essay. Thank you, Andi.

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      Thanks so much, Karen.

  • Carol Malone

    I am proud of you Andi. Love you.

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      Thank you, dearest Carol.

  • Jon Carlsten

    Isn’t it one of the objectives of interaction, for each of us to learn how to be safe with each other?

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      Oh, absolutely. Sadly, though, it’s not always safe, and people are not always kind.

  • Mary Reaves

    Hi Andi no matter who you are God love you,continue living.who he has made you.Enjoy what’s a head the good life.

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      Thank you for that kind reminder, Mary. So appreciated.

  • Linda

    Andi, I love what I see as I am learning about you, your sensibilities, and your passions.

    I recall when I met you many months ago and asked how you self identified, you graciously said that you identified as white and acknowledged your black ancestors.

    That response was beautiful in its simplicity and clarity then. Your courageous baptism into what must at times be murky waters now, is even more beautiful.

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      Thank you, Linda. What a kind note. Thanks again.

  • Kelly

    Please explain the choice to use black male, dark hued black male?

    • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

      It’s a beautiful photo. That’s the main reason. Also, finding images of African American people that are available for use on blogs is difficult. This image is gorgeous and available for such use.

      I love his expression, the thoughtfulness of it, the intensity of it. I just really love the image.

      • Kelly

        Thanks for answer.
        The picture is disturbing for me because it seems incongruent with thoughts.
        Hopefully, I am mistaken. Seems darker image chosen to heighten click potential. I kept looking for ways to connect imagery to essay and found none.
        Peace and blessings.

  • Andi Cumbo-Floyd

    Kelly, goodness, I’m not even sure what to say to that. I didn’t even think of the “hue” of his skin, and I definitely didn’t think about it as click potential, except in the sense that it’s a more positive reading experience to see a beautiful photo as part of the post.

    In terms of connection to the content, my first Cumbo ancestor was a man from the Angola region of Africa. He probably was quite dark in skin tone, and so this man could be Emmanuel, my great-great-great grandfather.

    I’m not sure anything I will say here will satisfy your concerns, but I hope this is helpful.