My Husband is Either Too Black or Not Black Enough
Black Americans are all too often denied their complexity
In my 20s, I dated a man who grew up Mormon in Salt Lake City. He was in the Boy Scouts, adored Star Wars, and played football in high school. When he came of age in the 1990s, he loved listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers. His mother worked for the state and his stepdad, a retired army drill sergeant, fixed cars. When this man and I started dating, he had just completed EMT school and was studying to be a paramedic.
In my 20s, I also dated a man from Cincinnati who went to 11 different schools as a child. He never finished high school, hustled as a young adult, and spent half a year in jail. When he came of age in the 1990s, he loved playing basketball and listening to Tupac. His mother managed a 7–11 and his father, who lived in another state, was largely absent from his life. About eight months before this man I started dating, he had split up with his five-year-old son’s mother and been laid off from his factory job.
Which one of these men do you think is Black?
You may be feeling distinctly uncomfortable right now, wondering what point I’m trying to prove. But you can stop squirming because it’s a trick question.
The two men I’ve described above are actually the same man. And yes, he’s Black. He’s also my husband of 14 years.
No one really knows what to make of my husband. If they meet him while he’s wearing his favorite Jordan sweatsuit, with his dreadlocks down, his LeBron sneakers on, and his platinum chain glistening around his neck, they cannot believe that he grew up Mormon in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If they catch him on his way to or from work, while he’s wearing his custom button-down shirt, with his dreadlocks up, his cowboy boots on, and his hipster glasses perched on his nose, they are shocked if he reveals anything about his checkered past. They had assumed he wasn’t “that kind” of Black guy.
When he moved to Salt Lake City from Cincinnati at the age of six, he was initially put in remedial classes because he talked “too Black.” When he moved back to Cincinnati during his troubled teen years, everyone in the nearly all-Black neighborhood of Avondale told…