By Kadia Tubman
It was at a friend’s birthday celebration over a month ago. At the kind of party that reminds you Brooklyn is smaller than you think, especially when it comes to the black-brown community. When my girlfriend and I arrived, I discovered an estranged childhood friend was also at the bar. He happened to be the person I secretly crushed on for eight years up until junior high school. (Even as a kid I had a thing for long-term commitment.) We finally bumped into each other, and after giving him a brief update on the past 12 years of my life, he genuinely congratulated me.
“Look at you,” he said. He referenced my job, my international travels, my not having kids, my independent living, and my “getting a white girl.”
Coolly, I corrected him on his last remark, which lingered with me for the rest of the night and weeks later. Everything else in my life I had consciously worked to accomplish; the last, not the way he saw it. In that moment, his words irked me out of my happy place, and my initial instinct was to explain—defend—myself; to clarify any notion that I wasn’t some self-loathing sellout who moved out and up. It was like patting myself for something I expected to be on me.
“Oh, my conscious card? Yeah, I have it. It’s riiight…here…somewhere….”
Unasked and unanswered questions loomed: Was this how others perceived me? As the well-to-do black girl who according to cliché ended up with a “white” girl? And what response did my girlfriend get when she showed new acquaintances a photo of us? Had someone ever said, “Ooo, good for you—you got a black girl” in a non-fetishistic and flattering way? Was this ridiculous and un-queer-black-feminist of me to even care?
For the first time, I asked myself, “Am I a stereotype?” Images of couples I admired came to mind, and there was a trend. Smart, ambitious, and beautiful black women appeared and they were with white women. Then I did something I hadn’t ever previously done: I checked myself. There was no point in checking Marcus from the old block because I understood his purview and held him to no fault. I could, however, check myself. For what exactly? Well, to start, for any prescriptions to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy ideologies as a yardstick of success. I knew I didn’t choose my partner based on some superficial (and creepy) symbol of social promotion. Thus I found the answer to my question was maybe—it depended on who was looking. It just mattered most what I believed when I was looking.
Since that party in Brooklyn, I pay closer attention to my leanings. I reconsider the narratives I hear, the images I see and how they impact me consciously and unconsciously. I evaluate the authenticity of my thoughts, actions and sense of agency. Like what I compliment as beautiful or who I go out of my way to meet and whether any of that comes from a genuine place or from innumerable instances of social conditioning. Essentially, I check for anything that I might have internalized and buried over the years, months or days because doing so makes me feel like a fuller, self-aware human being. Sure, it’s work, work I don’t even have to do. It’s work I choose to do because it’s worthwhile, and at the end of each day it shapes me into the person I want to be.
*This post originally appeared on Kadiascope.com.
Kadia Tubman is a little bit of corporate and a little bit of creative. An entrepreneurial journalist, she communicates stories that in their simplicity capture the intricacies of culture, business, art, politics and health. Uniquely, her experience started in business school where she majored in literary and visual arts. She then went on to work for major media and marketing companies in New York City. Kadia enjoys communicating new ideas and viewpoints to inspire innovation of both personal and professional capacities. Three years ago she returned to her birthplace of Brooklyn where she currently resides with her partner, roomies and books.