Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, many people would often say to me, “Keenan! You’re the whitest black guy that I know!” At the time, I would find it funny, and at one point, I even embraced it as part of my routine when I used to do stand-up comedy. It’s not a sentence that is said to me as often as it used to be toward me, but it is still uttered every now and then, and recently, I have found myself getting a little more offended by it. When I ask people to not say it anymore, sometimes they say, “I mean, but you really are!”
That’s not okay anymore… and today, I’m going to tell you why…
How It Began
I grew up in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. The public schools that I attended were predominantly white. From kindergarten all the way through my senior year of high school, I was surrounded by white people that I wanted to fit in with. I would listen to the music that they would listen to, I would see the movies they would want to see, and I talked like they talked… I just wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to stand out and I just wanted to be “in” with the popular crowd.
There was never a doubt that I was raised very well. My parents worked very hard to get me the best education, take me on beautiful vacations, and allow me the opportunity to play recreational sports and do theater… words cannot even begin to describe how blessed I was growing up. Many young black males like me are not afforded the opportunities that I was and have been presented with.
Understanding Why This Was Happening
It wasn’t until I started Rider University that the whole “whitest guy ever” thing started to really bother me. As I began to learn more about my heritage and became more aware of how people perceive me and people like me, when people would say, “You’re the whitest black guy ever” I began to ponder, “Well, what is it that makes me white?”
One day, I asked my friend why she would always introduce me to her friends as the “whitest black guy” – here are some of the reasons she gave:
- You speak very well.
- You do musical theater.
- You dress clean.
- Your friends are mostly white.
- You listen to white music.
It was at this point that I was really bothered…
What Is Black? What Is White?
Once those bulletpoints were given to me, I started asking myself:
- Why am I considered white because I enunciate?
- Why am I considered white because I enjoy musical theater?
- Why am I considered white because I dress a certain way?
- Why am I considered white because I am often in the company of white people?
- Why am I considered white because of the music I listen to?
From there, it turned into:
- Do my friends think that black people aren’t capable of speaking proper English?
- Do my friends think that only white people do musical theater?
- Do my friends think that white is contagious?
- Do my friends think that I don’t listen to music produced by black people?
I was confused and angry… which is a terrible combination. Instead of addressing these concerns, I just let it go and figured that I’d only confuse myself even more if I tried to understand it.
How It Is Today
Some time had passed since I thoroughly thought about this topic. Every now and then, someone would mention how I’m the “whitest black guy ever”, and I would kindly ask them to stop doing so. Recently, however, someone close to me said it and I think it was the final straw – hence this blog post today.
Me And Black Culture
I think many people out there assume that I am not in touch with black culture. Some people assume this, and I think that’s what hurts the most. Over the past year or so, my sense of style, fashion, thought process, speaking voice, posture, and humor (among many others) has morphed into a fun mix of suburnan and urban. At first, I began curbing the way I presented myself because I wanted to fit in with both white culture and black culture. I wanted to be able to comfortably hang out with my white friends and my black friends. Then I began to realized that I was making too much of a concentrated effort to speak a certain way around one group of friends, and another way around another group of friends…
…I didn’t want to do that anymore. I just wanted to be me. And fortunately, who I am today is who I love being. I feel comfortable with how I present myself and my interests to both crowds. I still speak a certain way around one group and another way around others groups, but that blurred line is slowly disappearing.
So Let’s Just Stop, Please
I won’t spend any more time going into why “whitest black guy” bothers me… or tell you how when people say that to me, it really hurts my feelings… or that it is actually quite offensive and that it disappoints me to no end that I am not considered “black” because I don’t fit into your stereotype or ideology of black… or that I am sick of hearing it… or that black people are allowed to like and enjoy things that aren’t stereotypically considered a part of the black culture… or that I am not offended when people respond with, “I didn’t mean anything mean by it” … or I feel uncomfortable with the notion that you have to introduce me to your friends in this manner… or that it’s weird that you think it’s funny…
…I won’t do any of that. I’ll simply just ask you to please stop saying it.