Forgetting the stereotype

By Alex McNab

I am going to China to be a better black man. In America, I am trapped by expectations that I have to live up to. I am expected to be black.

White kids tell me black is ghetto. Black is uneducated. Black is fried chicken and Kool-Aid. Black is Chris Tucker and Dave Chappelle and Gary Coleman in “Diff’rent Strokes” saying “What ‘choo talkin’ ‘bout Willis.”

I am more Barack Obama, Bill Cosby and W.E.B. Dubois. I am educated. I speak well, I dress well and I’m not from the hood, so I am not considered black. I have to pretend that I am.

In my school, I can’t say nuthin’ correct so that I can show the white kids how ghetto I am.

In my neighborhood, I am ashamed to tell the black kids that I go to one of the top private schools in the country because they’ll say I go to “white-boy school.” I don’t want them to think that I am just like every other white, prep-school kid.

I feel as though I am always acting. I play one role at home and another at school, but neither of them is me.

I don’t think white kids worry about being white as much as black kids worry about being black, and I envy them for that. Sometimes, I envy them so much that I wish I wasn’t black anymore. So I am going to the other side of the world with School Year Abroad to stop being black for nine months.

Hopefully, as a Chinese man, I will be able to discover what it is to be myself and not a stereotype. There, I will be living up to the Chinese expectation of me and not the white man’s. I hope to find a happy medium between the two that is just me.

I won’t have to speak stupid or act hood or sag my pants, but I don’t know if this will work. It is very possible that I’ll get to China and I’ll be the only black man there, so I’ll become blacker and even less of myself out of a feeling that I need to be some sort of a representative for my entire race. But I don’t want to. I don’t want my life to be a performance.

The late Gil Scott-Heron, a black-activist rapper, said “We’re all actors in this, I suppose.”

I suppose he was right.

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