Race means everything in America.
This phrase was one that I heard from the phenomenal, legendary, and unapparelled comedian Paul Mooney. It is the truth. Mooney knows all too well about the struggles of being a Black man in America. This is how I see myself. A young Black man who has the potential to do anything that he desires. Race plays a huge role in my life because I would never want to and could never take my blackness off. As I am Black at all times. I am Black when I am in Brooklyn, I am Black when I am in Yonkers, and I am Black when I am in The Dominican Republic.
As a young Black man, America either accepts me, tolerates me, or rejects me. I feel that America, however, could never love me unconditionally. I see America tolerating me with small rare accolades like the celebration of Black History Month or with showing polite respect for President Obama. I see these as subtle acts of toleration of my race. When America is murdering innocent young Black men, miseducating innocent young Black men, or mass incarcerating innocent young black men who made poor decisions based on their current socio-economic status, I see these as subtle acts of hatred of my race. In actuality, the picture that I have of myself is one of royalty; one of excellence; and one who seeks to live by the highest standards possible.
Per my ethnicity, most of my family hails from Cameroon, West Africa and Benin, West Africa as my roots did not originate in the Americas. Yet, my family has been in the United States for centuries. Researched information that I have collected stems from documents, family stories, memories, and photographs passed down by my family over many decades. Today, records of my family’s heritage are archived in various places, including the Bronx, in other extensions of New York, and in Connecticut, with records dating back as far as the 1700s. As a result of my Blackness, my experiences, so far, have introduced me to a new and beautiful awareness of myself and others like me because it resulted in me loving being Black! I know today that being black is a privilege that every black person must learn to take advantage of. This sentiment, perhaps, would explain why I read and embraced Lenard McKelvey’s AKA “Charlemagne Tha God”, book Black Privilege so quickly.
Unfortunately, in the United States, presumptions are made about how people think or what they believe because of how they happen to look or what they seem to have. In my case, because I happen to be a Black man, people have also stereotyped me and perceived how I think because of my Blackness. My native African language was stripped away from my family due to the atrocities of chattel slavery. Though the bulk of my family’s lingua was lost, it was not all lost since certain words and phrases survived to be passed down for centuries.
People in the United States fail to look beyond my Blackness to see my qualities as a human being. For example, because I speak some Spanish, assumptions are made that I am speaking a non-standard ethnic dialect of the language. This assumption is an inference that a Black man cannot speak anything other than English, which is also seen as being a “Broken” dialect of English called “Black English” or “Patois”. As a Black person who speaks Spanish, the assumption is not standard but some dialect or variation of the language. Regardless, my race, class, ethnicity, and language all make me who I am as a human being, Dennis Richmond, Jr. Because my blackness cannot leave me, I continuously encountered racism and other prejudice perceptions associated with being black and over the age of 21.
The irony is that there is no one way to being Black and no right way to being Black. For an example, if a Black child is born and raised in China by his adopted Chinese parents, that child will still be a Black child but culturally, his “Chineseness” will defend him as a person, not his Blackness. Once he enters The United States, however, his Black skin color now precedes his Chinese culture where he is automatically perceived and stereotyped as being another Black man. However, his love of his Chineseness will eventually assist in defining him in the United States. “Love Is Love” and “Blackness is Blackness”
The knowledge and love that I have of myself and Blackness come from my family and my community. I have been influenced as a person from learning that my father attended a Black Panther Meeting in California when he lived in Watts and that my mother attended a private, liberal arts HBCU, Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In addition, learning that both my grandmother and great grandmother owned land or that my second great grandmother successfully sued a White-owned company in South Carolina in the 1930s have influenced me as a person. My great, great grandmother Lelia Jarvis traveled the world in the 1950s. My great, great, great grandfather Edward B. Merritt worked in the office of a real estate agent in 1901.
All these factors have shaped my Blackness; my decision to stay positive and be a revolutionary; and my ambition to become a home/land owner. However, the most significant factor in my life was discovering that I was a “Black” person. One day, as a small child, in New York City with my Mom, I looked at her and asked her why were there, “so many black people here”? A question that I would never ask today because I know the answer. To sum up her answer in into one sentence, she explained that being Black was an existence in my life. Blackness cannot be created. Blackness is an existence. Unfortunately, we live in a society where people can be hated for simply, existing.
Dennis Richmond, Jr.
Founder and Director
The NYNJ HBCU Initiative