The Summer I Turned Black
How I went from merely accepting my race to proudly and passionately embracing it.
There’s a memorable episode of the ’70s and ’80s TV sitcom The Jeffersons in which Allan Willis, the White son of mixed-race couple Tom and Helen Willis, makes an uncomfortable blanket presumption. While discussing race and jealousy with his sister, Jenny, who is Black, and several of the show’s other Black characters, he poses a loaded question.
“Is there anybody here who hasn’t wondered, just once, what it would be like to be White?”
Sometimes a question is just a question, but when I rewatch that 1975 episode now, it’s obvious to me that this particular question was a statement masquerading as a question. The context in which it was posed (“Green is a color, too”? Whoa!) suggested that he didn’t just believe all Black people invariably wondered at some point what it must be like to be White, but they also wished, at perhaps more than just some point, that they were White.
The more I think about what he said and what he implied, the more wrong I think he was. I can’t speak for every Black person on the planet, but for me, I’ve never had to wonder what it’s like to be White because I’ve always known: I see White privilege in action every day of my life.
Have I ever actually wanted to be White? I can’t say that I have. There are several things I would change about my appearance if I could, but my skin color has never been one of them. I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than me. I could get my chin area sculpted to perfection and acquire the chiseled six-pack of my dreams, and I’d still be me. But if I changed my race (and all the trauma and beauty that’s come with it), I’d be someone else entirely — and I’m too happy being me.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit there was a time in my life when I wanted some of my features to be perhaps be less… Black. Hair that wasn’t quite so kinky would have been easier to style than the afro I grew up…