This Tarred Honky

With February being Black History month, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a guy about 15 years ago. I was working at the local community centre and was responsible for setting up equipment and making sure no one got hurt. Participants were all late teens so they didn't need constant supervision. As a result I used to do a bit of homework while listening to music. On one occasion I had been listening to 70's Prog rock group Kansas during the session and afterwards was approached by one of the guys and asked why I was listening to "white" music. I said I liked it. He thought I should've been listening to music which reflected my skin colour, which to him was black. I said I was a mix but he still insisted that I should be following my "black" heritage and culture. In the end we disagreed and went our separate ways. Every once in a while I think back to this conversation and feel that it was unfortunate that this man indulged in stereotypes. He was black.

This always gets me thinking about my own view of race and culture as it relates to myself. Yes, I am of mixed breeding which is Jamaican (daddy) and British (mommy), who divorced a year after I was born. Does that mean I have an obligation to follow either of these heritages or cultures? I would argue that environment can play a much stronger role in identification no matter the birth place of the parents. I was raised by my mother who played piano, listened to Orchestral music and had Soft Rock radio playing in the mornings. Perhaps if I had been raised by my dad I would've listened to Reggie and RnB music. (Perhaps that's just me using stereotypes, although the black guy at the community centre seemed to want to encourage that stereotype, so if it was OK for him to do so, I guess it's OK for me to do so). Anyways, I digress. This consistent barrage of Orchestral and Soft Rock music soon developed into an enjoyment of The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Star Wars soundtracks. 80's New Wave, Heavy Metal and 70's Prog Rock soon followed. All in all, I loved "white" music. I've tried on a few occasions to get down and in touch with my "roots", but heavy rhythmic based dancing music just doesn't groove with me the way a great 7/8 time signature does.

But it's not only the music which was affected by my upbringing, it was my fashion sense (:lol), and my speech patterns (bigger :lol). In fact I was so "unblack" that one year at a summer camp when I was 11, another kid shouted through the window "nigger nigger nigger". I was horrified, but not for the reason you might think. I was looking around to find the kid who this derogatory taunt was aimed at. Surely it wasn't me. A few of the other boys tried to console me but I assured them that I wasn't offended.

Around the same time I started to realize that the rest of my family which I had contact with (my mothers side) were all of a different skin colour than me. I asked my mom about it, she explained the situation about my dad, and then it all made sense. But I never felt torn, split, or confused about who I should be. From that age on I had the opportunity to ask and investigate about my dad but I was never really interested. I had a family, I was happy, and I was me.

In later years I made jokes about being mulatto, being a failed black man, or a failed white man. I made jokes about knowing white people who were blacker than me and jokes about black people who were whiter than me. All in all, despite my skin colour, I had my own sense of identity which was not based on any racial heritage, but based on my own sense of individualism and that continues to this day.

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