NEGRA by Gabrielle Greiner

I never knew I was black.

Growing up, my blackness wasn’t taught to me, like how I wasn’t shown how to do my hair.

When I raised questions to my elders, “Why does my hair grow out? Like sideways, not down. And why is it so curly?”

The response glossed over centuries of relaxed history, denied the blackness in me, and simply was “Because you’re Puerto Rican.”

But, the Boricuas I saw on TV did not resemble me, rather they looked like they stepped out of a commercial for Pantene.

So, what does this mean?

I made my first Latino friend in college, when I was 19.

She was Mexican-American, with indigenous roots I could see.

See, the Latinos in high school did not like me.

I was too white, too educated, thought too much, and wanted too badly to be free.

Free from the stereotypes that the oppressor laid on me.

My back was tight and I could barely just be.

I was contending with my identity

Because I have the blood of both the oppressor and the oppressed inside of me.

I realized I was black just before 23.

Studying my Isla’s history had removed the blinders from me.

The Spaniards murdered the Tainos and through violent indigenous rape, eradicated them from our present reality.

They forced this foreign tongue down our throats and balked when we didn’t like the taste.

Spain did the same to my African ancestors, denying their humanity, refusing to set them free.

They claimed ownership of the black body, through slavery and forced intimacy.

Thus, a Puerto Rican came to be.

I think about my blackness and wonder, “Is this how the country sees me?” As black?

We all know what that means.

Or, am I midway between the binary? Inoffensive light skin. Beautifully standard English flowing off my tongue.

Oh, but that hair. Wild. Unprofessional. Must be tamed.

I doubt my blackness. My skin isn’t dark enough. My ancestors were slaves on an island, not here. I have privileges that my Jamaican-American friend will never have. But, she sees my blackness. She calls it out of me, nurtures it, sings to it while it grows.

My blackness cannot exist without my brother and sister. My blackness is a lover I call out to. My blackness follows the question marks. My blackness propels me toward eternity and calls to me throughout history.

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