Last year, someone suggested in a tweet that I share my essay, “On Being Black.” My excuse, then, was that the timing was bad. I was in the middle of a major writing project. In an already ‘busy’ life, I didn’t have time to scour through file folders to find it and then retype it (the only copy I had was a scanned PDF version). But procrastinating one day, I searched it out and, after reading through it, thought, Share this? Absolutely not.
The essay stirred up a lot of emotion, and a feeling I’d, then, rather deny than acknowledge: that I’m still searching for my way home, trying to find my place in the world.
The world is changing, yet it’s also staying the same. And this essay — seventeen years after it first appeared — begs the question: have I changed or have I, too, stayed the same?
My first literary credit, “On Being Black” was published in the 2003 Winter Edition of Other Voices: Journal of the Literary and Visual Arts. I present here, having only corrected an obvious spelling mistake, the original published version.
On Being Black
From Being Black there is being. Being is, here, in the text of the formula derived long ago: existence precedes essence. Being is what is proper to man, dwelling in this world where the total of all actions undertaken by man are understood by man as being before itself and before others — actions that substantiate the whole of man in being, that do not call into question said whole, and, in addition, allow man, in being, to be with and without being. And being, then, within Being Black, is to re-veal itself as the motivating guide[-ance] beyond the passage in the course of Being Black. Black is not something that you define. Black is not something that you learn to be. Black is not something that you decide to be. Black is. Being Black just is.
Within the economy of Being Black just is, here I am, the metaphor contained by it, trying to extract itself, searching out the core, navigating the passage — shifting, metamorphosing, charging towards the self, turning around and absconding the self in the presence of an altérité rebelle au logos.
How can this be re-vealed? except to say that I have never been one to follow the crowd. Because of that I, as metaphor, have been displaced, my significance re-cast, renamed: radical and non-conformist. To re-trace, then, my significance, now displaced, deconstructed, usurped, is an attempt to erase my ontos — to understand me, confine me, position me, not in the context of the mythos of Being Black just is but in the mythos of others’ [les autres] isms for all that they must still call Morality. Being Black just is, within the original formula derived long ago (existence precedes essence), accedes to a sub-formula — economical and voluble — inscribed in a Morality of personal responsibility. That I am responsible for my life, for all that I can become, my belief in myself — my certain yet limited responsibility towards others, a responsibility that must be discarded should it compromise, impede, obscure, this Morality. My responsibility is, within my dwelling in this world, first and foremost, to my self (These are the imprints of those who have influenced me: Jacques Derrida, Maya Angelou, André Gide, and Jean-Paul Sartre).
This is the economy of Being Black just is: awakened to a heightened consciousness of being, of existence, I have learned that I am and that I am the possible.
Being, by design, transcends sine qua non the pigmentation of my skin. Let me be clear, for it must be understood that the economy has not remained constant, stagnant, absolute. There is a concept of being within the economy of Being Black just is: it has a history, a mythos for an omnipresent form for all that was once called Reason. The concept, then, is this. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I had been taught, trained, conditioned, to see everything in terms of Black and White. When I placed second or third in public speaking competitions, it was because I was Black. When I came out to my family, it was me allowing the White man’s world to influence, penetrate, control, me. The causation of being was to live-out one’s existence through the colour glass. The colour glass, however, constrains, confines, constricts, living and although Being Black has been, is, and always will be an integral part of who I am, Being Black is not all that I am. The economic rule — responsibility for the self — could not be sustained because being within the historical economy of Being Black just is had been displaced. Living through the colour glass was not living at all.
Dwelling in this world, chained to living in terms of Black and White, limits my possibility. And I don’t believe in the impossible. There can be [for me] only the possible, the attainable. Living, then, is, by necessity, about achieving one’s fullest potential. To reclaim my significance I came to an understanding of self. That is, Being Black evolves in the discourse of existence precedes essence, enmeshed within it, cultivating itself, moving into itself. It is, then, when I dream that I come to a true understanding of my being. And how can it be that I am true to my self if I am not true to anyone else? For truth is found within, and without truth I will never understand from where I’ve come, where I am, and to where I desire to go.
Being Black becomes suspect when the mythos of a universal form of a corrupt Reason assails it, takes ownership of it, and attempts to turn Being Black into what Being Black isn’t. It is this corrupt Reason that propels the metaphor [me] away from its authenticity, to exclude it from its taxonomy of being. To demonstrate this, the historical concept of the economy of being within Being Black just is is again engaged. First, when I am asked, “Where are you from? and I respond by saying, “Halifax,” the question is consistently, dogmatically, willfully, rephrased to, “Where are you from originally?” Second, I recall quite vividly standing on Gottingen Street in Halifax, just a few years ago, the bright July evening sun beating down on me as I talked to two other young Black men while waiting for the bus. All three of us had just attended the Wednesday Night Prayer Service at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church where I was the interim organist. They had inquired about my family, my name, and what I was studying. At the time I was working on a master’s degree in French Literature. One of the young Black men looked at me intently, quizzically, and then, in a loud, disdainful voice asked, “What type of Black person are you?”
Being Black became so much clearer, tangible, real. There has to be a certain infrastructure upon which the metaphor is based, anchored, grounded. That infrastructure is Truth. Truth within the concept of ‘view’. To render my existence ‘authentic’ I must first ‘view’ [see] myself in the world; that is to say, I must exhort my being — believe in my worthiness as an individual and see myself, as I proclaim, as the possible. I must see the world and see myself in the world because I am in the throws of ‘building up’ some ‘thing’, some ‘thing’ that is my being. I am engaged in the revelation of a consciousness of being, recognizing wholly, freely, all that I am and all that I am not.
Truth has its prime application in this economy in that the metaphor has reclaimed its significance, re-vealed its ontos: I see beyond the colour glass to the possibility that is me, and that is why Being Black just is. You see, it took me almost 26 years, but I learned to love myself. I have claimed my place in the world. Now, at 30, I still cling, steadfast and true, to those words of William E. Henley: “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
What is at stake, doubly and assuredly, is this. Black isn’t me pretending to be someone I’m not. Black is. Being Black just is me simply being me. It is me seizing hold of my Morality — tangible, concrete, real — that I am responsible for my being, existence, dwelling in this world. In its purest form, Being Black just is speaks to, proclaims, my loyalty to my self above and before all, which guarantees the authenticity of my self — the concreteness of my existence. It is then that Truth is always within view, and when I see Truth, I am living-out the self, that Being Black is, Being Black just is. To speak, then, of an economy of Being Black just is, is to understand being, in the text of the formula derived long ago — universal, ubiquitous, omnipotent — as the art of living. And the art of living must be our ability — yours and mine — to make all things impossible possible. In this world, amidst all the beauty that is this world, personal happiness — all that I [we] am [are] and all that I [we] dare to be — is dependent, singly, on my [our] ability to seek out and maintain said happiness.
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