I’m the color white that makes a black man look 50 shades darker. It’s not just my skin color, I actually think black people look at me and go, “OMG, it’s Becky.” I usually surprise them in one of two ways; my ability to recite and passionately rap most old school albums – and a booty that can pop, lock and drop it. I realize that to hear a Becky say she can “toot that thang up” – or – rap so good she could resurrect Biggie Smalls, you may question her abilities. I don’t care. I am totally confident in believing I can do these things that whatever comes through my white ass will have soul… I call it my inner blackness.
My inner blackness is driven by music that came from ‘the ghetto.” It all started on the playground in elementary school (cue Iesha music). My family and I moved to the ghetto, um, I mean Clearwater and my hood, um, apartment complex, housed a lot of young thugs. I quickly went from posters of Michael Jackson to records by Easy E. When my feminist grandmother heard her little red haired girl singing, “Gimme That Nut” I think she almost had a heart attack. I didn’t do drugs but I did steal my mom’s cigarettes AND smoke them, therefore, I fully defined myself as a thug. I also loved a brown boy named Chaka and a white boy named Eric. Chaka already had sex in the 4th grade and his mom was addicted to drugs. Eric lived with both parents and played 3 sports. I couldn’t decide which one I liked more, but usually leaned toward Chaka. He and I would have probably lived happily ever after in our Clearwater version of gangsta’s paradise. Instead, I moved and cried as I listened to Boys II Men’s “End of the Road” on repeat for 6 months.
My inner blackness is a fighter. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t raised in the actual ghetto. I never heard gun shots and although there were plenty of parents who made bad decisions (drug addicts, child abusers, strippers) kids were generally safe playing outside. I remember getting into a fight with a girl because she kept saying something about my clothes. It wasn’t really a fight, it was a shouting match where I basically told her my “black ass” would pounce her if she said it one more time.
My inner blackness gives me confidence and the courage to stand up for myself. Isn’t that what hip hop music was all about? Black Americans picked up the pieces of what they had lost and spread it across the world to say this isn’t right! It’s not right that I have to live in a place where my baby isn’t safe. It’s not right that she has to pass dealers on the way to school because I have to work 3 jobs and her daddy left. It’s not right that I have to fight for the same opportunities handed to you. Their powerful messages were of oppression, but most importantly of survival.
My inner blackness will never know true racial oppression. There is a part of me that will always embrace the ghetto. I celebrate my struggles through writing and poetry, and I’m not afraid to let people know when they’ve crossed my boundaries (you know cause I’m hard like that), but I only spent 4 years in “the ghetto” before my mom moved us to the blindingly white town of Palm Harbor. TuPac, Biggie, Snoop, Ice Cube, East Coast, West Coast all came with me, but soon I realized that, riding in my rich boyfriend’s Saab blasting WuTang looked kind of ridiculous. This is where the white privilege set in. How can I speak these lyrics that contain so much pain as I sit in a classroom without a single black kid. My high school was so white, they had to bus in kids from Clearwater, just to show diversity. I felt like a hypocrite and felt unworthy of the music and culture that once gave me confidence and pride. Eventually I realized that my opportunity was not a slight on those who struggle and even though I never felt true racial oppression, I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I decided to find a way to help the oppressed. So I went to college and began studying to become a teacher.
My inner blackness rises up. I came from a single mother who could not afford to send me to college. The only word from my dad was to get a job, but I knew that if I wanted to make the biggest difference, I needed an education. As an English Ed major, I studied African American literature. I suffered beside Janie until she built up the courage to take her power back in Their Eyes Were Watching God. When Sharon Draper described the drums of Amari’s African tribe in Copper Sun. I realized how blessed we are to have this infusion of black music in American culture. Of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe showed the world what is was like to live as a slave while maintaining faith and dignity in one self. Tom sacrificed everything, including himself for the sins of others, and it’s no wonder Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second highest selling book of the 19th century, next to The Bible. Like hip hop and R&B, African American literature is about power through the pain. Every single story is a one of survival. These stories show why black lives matter.
My inner blackness continues to be inspired by the amazing influences in my life. I always say that my students keep me cool. I try to relate current musicians to their work in English class. They always call me out for my choice in rap music as if I’m trying to “act cool” for their sake… If they only saw their teacher on the dance floor! What they don’t know, is that I don’t do it to be cool. For decades, Lauren Hill, Snoop, Missy Elliot, Warren G, TLC, Nelly, Outkast, Beyonce, Ludacris, Drake, and more have inspired me to move my body and my life in a way that inspires others.
If my students can prepare for The Odyssey by learning rhythm and rhyme through TuPac’s Dear Mama or better identify Shakespeare’s use of slang through Drake’s music, then I’m going to rap my heart out for them. Ask any former student about my skills and they’ll tell you how awesome I am, and by awesome I mean crazy, I’m sure they think I’m totally bat shit crazy.
On a serious note, I hope they will tell you that I inspired them to rise up regardless of their race, gender, or culture. I created a classroom of equality. I continue to teach my own kids that they are no better, and no less than anyone. I know they will encounter racism and gender inequality and there is little I can actually do about that. As a nation, we have to appreciate and embrace one another’s differences.
I am so thankful that I have amazing music to shake my white, Becky ass too. For the stories that have made me a stronger person by teaching me true human sacrifice and survival. For the inspiration to spread my message AND the courage to fight against the oppression.
I realize that my whiteness might offend some while embracing my inner blackness might offend others. I hope that if I spend my days living in some off shade of gray, I’ll be content.