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An African Cabbie Told Me I Wasn’t a Real Black Man

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Black man with backward hat in the city


“I’m a real black man,” shouted the Nigerian cabbie, while driving me home. I wasn’t surprised at that point; he’d spent the past 15 minutes telling me everything that was wrong with the African American community. Like our lack of community. Blacks and division have gone hand-in-hand for ages. When I was growing up in Chicago, every kid living in the Hood knew that his classroom was divided by gang type, and sometimes even skin-tone, now known as colorism. But this Nigerian man was telling me that I wasn’t black, when I was 4-5 shades lighter than him. What planet was I on? He turned around to face me and said, “You’re not black.”


Which was actually true. He had that smoky dark melanin that showed like a black hole at midnight. I’m not a light shade of brown, more of a deep milk chocolate. It was a mystery as to what color he was. 
His voice gave his words an entirely different meaning than I’d expected they would. I would soon learn that his being “a black man” meant that he was descended from kings and queens and I wasn’t. His words sounded just as harsh as any epithet I’d ever heard from a racist white person. His, and theirs, was a tone of superiority, a regal air steeped in prejudice.  

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“My history is long as time itself,” his deep, oily-sounding voice filled the cab. “Yours started 400 years ago You are the retarded, red-headed stepchildren of the family.” I feel like he’d practiced that, and his words raised my hairs. There was an echo in the car just as the streetlights changed from red to emerald.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

“Look at all the damage you cause. Your gangs, your violence, all of the welfare babies living generation to generation not working. Us real Africans, we get jobs, we start businesses, we thrive and you fail. You make me vomit.” Everything inside the cab only seemed that much grayer. I peered out the window at what looked like two NYPD officers Stopping and Frisking two hooded gentlemen. Why was this happening exactly when the African was trying to prove a point? He was a Brother from the Motherland and could mention which tribe he came from, probably from before Europeans ever touched down. And I was jealous. How could I call myself “African” American when I couldn’t tell you the names of either of my great-grandmothers? My last name is English, and it is common knowledge that we’ve got Irish, Italian, Native American, and German in my family. Yet, you’d never tell from my milk-chocolate complexion.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There was that, though. And I didn’t really pay attention to it at the time, nor did I appreciate it before: I’m a true American. If we are a melting pot, there are few as melted as myself. I’m not sure about my mother’s side of the family, because when she died she took any information about her ethnic roots with her. I don’t remember her being very open about that part of her past…though she did talk a lot about growing up in the South, and the racism she experienced there.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

As the widely family-circulated story goes, my father’s bloodline began with a burning plantation. Isn’t that how these things always happen? My third or fourth generation great-grandparents were in love; he was a slave, and she was his master’s daughter. Due to the controversial/illegal nature of their union, they risked life and limb because love knows no color. Civil war broke out. The plantation burned, possibly due to a slave revolt or canon blasts or both. And the two, law-breaking, tradition-parting lovebirds fled north, on a journey that must have lasted months. They settled in New Jersey and started my family. 
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It was such a gripping story, I always asked my father for more. “Well, lemme see, Son,” my dad, in his greatest father-with-robe-and-slippers impression, always dragged it out. Possibly for greater effect, or just because he was trying to grip at the threads of his selective memory. “I have a record of it somewhere. It’s in storage, I think.” That was usually how the story ended…my appetite whetted but never satiated.  But I really wanted to win this argument with the Nigerian, so I wasn’t even thinking of my roots.


“You do realize that blacks in America are here because of blacks in Africa, right?” I really wanted to cut deeply into this man. “You sold us into slavery. Not Europeans. That somehow makes you better than us?”
He was quiet for several seconds. Then: “It should have made you strong! What did you do once you got here? You can’t even keep from killing each other off!” Despite the dark, I could almost see the red in his eyes.
I tried to say something, but my words hid. His eyeballs pierced me in the rear-view. “I put my children through college with this job. What have you ever done?” Again, I was too angry and shocked to reply. 


Again, I failed to mention the great achievements of famous blacks: one of the first traffic lights, the first automatic gear shaft, and of particular note, it being winter in New York, Alice H. Parker invented the heating furnace. Without these inventions, his job would be a gross misadventure of death and tragedy. 
Because I never mentioned these people, I imagine that made him think black Americans didn’t have anything to be proud about or didn’t amount to much, ever. I couldn’t recall something special I’d done to spread togetherness in my own community, or add to the history of Abyssinians. Who was I? What had I become? I was, possibly, just as guilty for not being an agent for change, for not becoming a somebody, as he was for bashing the American Negro.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Whatever, bro. Just drop me off right here.” That was my win. He was driving me. Not the other way around. And I was the master of where I got dropped off. It may have been 10 blocks from my Bronx apartment, but it didn’t matter because I had the power to do it. He didn’t get a tip.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Once more, I failed to consider what should have been obvious: he’d come to America to escape poverty and sickness, and the largest terrorist group in the world, Boko Haram. If it were the other way around, I could not, and would not want to, come to set up a business in his country. The freedom we take for granted each day to do these things is what makes my story, our story, truly worth a birthright. We have our problems. But people are dying to get into this place we call home. They’re smuggling and tunneling to get here, most to find that they need to turn right back around.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As much as I would have denied it at the time, that man will get the American Dream. More than ever, we need a success story. This is something that I’m happy America can provide—in a time of distrust, lies, and rampant hunger, we can still provide a success story, to lift up the downtrodden, to move this country forward through action and sacrifice. I just wish I had told him that. He might have been proud of this real black man.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The point is, we all have problems we struggle with and history and achievement we should be proud of, regardless of where we currently reside. Instead of raising the ridiculous question is who is a “real” black person, why don’t we raise the question of how can we progress as a community? Why don’t we look within to find a solution to the challenges we face instead of looking out and pin pointing who has the right shade of blackness and the “acceptable” history to be considered a real black man.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]