Being a person of color in the world today oftentimes means existing in some kind of hypenated category. Especially if you’re black, we’re prone to using the “black” as a kind of qualitative factor alongside whatever other label you need to insert thereafter. And so, it becomes, I’m not just a feminist, but a “black feminist,” a “black nerd,” “black gamer,” “black surfer,” “black west-indian,” “black skateboarder” et al. It’s important too, because how else does one distinguish one’s self from the legions of other participants who are, by and large, of another ethnic persuasion.
We need this visibility too, because it creates community and it’s essential for the broadening of the scope of “blackness” and what it means to be “black.” Much like a reincarnation of Dubois’ notion of the “double consciousness” for African-Americans and other transplants from the African Diaspora, black people often have to straddle multiple realms of identity.
Certain kinds of subcultures, are for the most part, made up of enough other kinds of people, that the black folk therein, form a distinct subculture within said subculture. Movements and films like Afropunk give voice to a space where like-minded persons of color, can be free to conglomerate and be punk-and-rock loving, lip pierced-and-tattooed black people without judgement. Or for that matter, just any representation that falls outside of what is usually deemed ‘mainstream black culture.’ Whatever that is…..but yay to that! I am huge fan of thinking outside the proverbial box.
So, Shotgun Seamstress (see cover pic above) for example, is a great zine out of Portland, dedicated to the black punk scene. And yup, there is one! While I grew up in a black majority place, seeing people of color play rock music wasn’t an anomaly per se, but it didn’t mean that some people I knew, didn’t think I was weirdo for rocking out to Green Day and Pearl Jam in secondary school while everyone was pounding dub all the time. My musical tastes have grown considerably more eclectic since, (inclusive of dub as well) but I would have loved to have seen something like Afropunk back then, to let me know that it was okay that I didn’t like what everyone else seemed to predominately like.
Recently though, I began to wonder, to what extent do black people involved in certain subcultures feel divided by this dual identity of self. More importantly do they even feel that way? I started with skateboarding, not just because I LOVE the idea of black people on skateboards, but along with surfing, strikes me as this quintessential example of a cultural scene, that is heavily populated with white people–usually.
Trying to find black skateboaders in my immediate area was almost virtually impossible and surfers—quite impossible, even though I am in Florida and nearby a coastline. But I did find two skateboarders finally, a male and a female, who were willing to reply to my questionnaire and share some insight with me, about what it’s like to be black and skateboard. I also had a black, Trini friend from the technology field and Microsoft, give me some input as well and the findings were interesting.
I also asked the girl pertinent questions related to her gender (had to throw that into the mix). Both skaters have been skating for all, if not most of their lives. Being a girl affected her perceived perception by others, slightly more than being black did. And that I presume was relative to the question posed. For question # 3 What does the term being a “black skateboarder” mean to you? [if anything?] generated the following responses: “Nothing really. It’s just cool to be involved in a sport or activity other than the typical “black sports” like basketball or football. I mean I love those sports too, but skateboarding gives me something a little different.”
Another answer stated, “I’m a mothafuckin skater period. ‘Black skateboarders’ are the douchebags ruining what I cherish everyday.” The next question # 4, on that note, are you “black” first and foremost, THEN a girl-skater, or does it not matter at all out at the skate park?” garnered the following response, “I think people notice the fact that I’m a girl skater first, and then it kinda shocks them to see a black girl skater. I guess it makes sense because you don’t really see a lot of us, but once you hit some decent tricks you kinda blend in as just another skater. Like everyone is there for that common goal….to work on their tricks and get better, soon after, gender and race are out of the picture.”
On the other hand, for a similar question # 4, on that note, are you “black” first and foremost, THEN a skater, or does it not matter at all out at the skate park? The respondent replied, “Race has never played ever the smallest factor in a damn thing I do at the skatepark. That’s why I started skating because we were ALL rebels who no one liked and came together and didn’t give a fuck what the next person looked like…”
One participant used to see themselves as part of a sub-culture, ONLY as separate and in defiance of “mainstream” skateboard representations and the other understood that they were viewed as a subculture when posed with the question, but admitted that they tried not to “consciously see it.” When questioned if and how being black, may or may not affect or influence their skating style, both participants declared that it had no major effect.
I think it’s interesting that black people within certain subcultures [as with outside] just want to–belong. They want to fit in and be regarded as just another PERSON doing whatever it may be. In the words of my technology respondent, “I like to think I can transcend the race part.” In this case, this person also saw themselves as actively part of multiple subcultures like “the caribbean sub-culture, I’m in the black-subculture, I’m in the technologists subculture, marketers etc.” Unlike skaters which required the mastering and execution of different kinds of skills-sets (largely physical, curiously), the technologist saw how being a person of color clearly affected their own ‘style’ and perspective in the field, as well as the effect of their Caribbean heritage.
It’s also a matter of choice. Some people choose to identify that way and some don’t. I am a black feminist and I identify as such. Being black has informed my positionality in the world just as much (if not more), as being a female and a feminist has and this is how I choose to see myself. I take ‘black’ with me into other spheres as well, because I want to. In some spaces, taking ‘black’ with you, is a bummer for other folk. And a buzzkill. People don’t dig it. It makes you less authentic somehow, rather than a neutral participant of the particular activity and all that it entails. A connection was made by one of the participants more than once, between the ‘realness’ of true skateboarding culture and the supposed absence of race.
In many subcultural spaces, this would not be possible (and I am not too sure that it even is, but then again I am not a skateboarder so I don’t actually know) but I suppose I appreciate it for what it is. That’s what we’ve always done anyway. Simultaneously bound by the extent of this lovely color and its legacy, some of us have always found ways to do just that–transcend–and others, to simply just, be. Like James Brown said, say it loud people. Say it loud.
Speaking of alternative representations of glorious blackness and people of color:
Order copies of ShotgunSeamstress through Microcosm Publishing at www.microcosmpublishing.com
Check out the Afropunk community
Support some local trini rock for free at http://trinidadandtobagoisfucked.blogspot.com/2008/05/trinidad-tobago-is-fucked.html