It happened one day, over four years ago, and it was very sudden. It was like an overnight success story, the kind you’ve been working on for years and then out of the blue you rise out of the ashes and get hit over the head with an epiphany. That’s right, suddenly and seemingly out of the blue, I made a decision and from that point forward I wasn’t black anymore.
I have to thank Barack Obama and more specifically the media for provoking this transformation. The entire presidential campaign in 2008 and its massive coverage of what they were calling an historical event ultimately ended up pushing me over the edge. They’d go on and on about the ramifications of electing the first black president. It was such a long, drawn-out process, that whole election campaign in the US, I was already tired of hearing how we might potentially see either the first female or black president. And yes, I agreed, this was history in the making, no doubt about it. It was also the future but the media mostly billed it as history. When it finally became clear that it wouldn’t be a woman, I decided to look up this Barack Obama, the so-called black man that might become the next president. I was interested to know who this man was.
Much to my surprise, as I began reading his biography, I discovered that Obama was born to a black father and a white mother and was raised by his mother. While his life has been very different from mine, we do have that in common. We are a mixed breed, yet the label we carry is that we are black. As soon as your skin is a bit darker and you sport an afro, that’s it, there is no question, you are black with all its rights and privileges. The other half of your genetic makeup becomes irrelevant.
Until the day of my epiphany in 2008 when that knock over the head completely changed my point of view, there was not a day went by that I wished I wasn’t black! Three years ago, I freed myself. I didn’t realize it then but let me tell you how liberating it is to not be black anymore.
Here is exactly what happened, how my complete transformation occurred. I was getting angrier and angrier every time I heard anyone talking about how the US might actually elect a black man. Since I’d read his bio, I was on this thing about how he is just as much white as he is black and so why is everyone calling him black? Anyone who knows me will remember how I’d constantly labor this point. I was practically turning into the Incredible Hulk every time that topic came up. For those of you who don’t know the Incredible Hulk, he is a fictitious character from a 1970’s television series. A normal man who turns into a very kind but powerful green monster whenever he gets angry.
So that was me, turning into the Incredible Hulk because it annoyed me to no end that Obama was constantly being labeled as black despite the fact that it’s only half true. One day, in a moment of calm, I decided that I was tired of being black. As luck would have it, I’m just as white as I am black. So I came to a brilliant conclusion. I’ve lived over 40 years being black and now I’m going to balance things out and be the other half of me for at least the next 40 years. Now, I was going to be white. As simple as that. And I was most excited by my decision. I figured that ought to solve it once and for all. It made me chuckle but it also made me feel really good!
That brilliant idea of mine lasted less than 24 hours. The next day as I was making my coffee for the first time as a white person, I realized how absurd this all was. After all, my coffee tasted exactly the same as when I used to make it back when I was black the day before. So, while I was most excited about being white now, a full blown Caucasian, still it made no sense because it is actually the label that was unnerving me. Why do I need a damn label? How is changing the label going to make any difference at all? While I had realized that it’s my life and so I can choose my own label, a problem remained. I simply don’t like labels. I cut them out of all my clothes and I don’t even like wearing clothes that have someone else’s name on them. At last I came up with the perfect solution. I would carry no label at all, just like my clothes. I am not black and I am not white. I simply, am. That’s it. I am! And wow, did that ever feel so much better. It felt right. “Here I am!”. Just like that. Kind of like Prince but I kept my name. You can still call me Kharim.
It felt so good. Now I needed to figure out how I would be the woman formerly labeled as black and understand what I really meant by that. A few more days of working out the details and it all fell into place. I had made another realization. I had been black all these years because that is how I saw myself. It doesn’t really matter how others see you, it’s how you see yourself. All my behaviours had been custom tailored, by yours truly, based on who I thought I was. I thought I was black and as a result, that is how I expected others saw me too. I spent so much energy compensating for all the stereotypes out there which clearly ended up making matters worse. Why? Because 24 hours a day, I was black. In my mind, I was black. And that was a predominant thought process I carried around. Now I am free because I don’t think about it anymore. Now, I simply am. I have let go of that black label and there’s been room for the rest of me to appear. Oh it’s really cool! I no longer have that expectation that people will immediately see that I’m black. It’s just not a thought that goes through my mind. So, maybe that’s still how people see me but it’s no longer a preoccupation of mine. It’s fabulous.
I’ve discovered that despite this predilection in our society to put labels on everything, we don’t need to assume any of those labels if we aren’t comfortable with them. I can take the labels off my clothing and I can keep them off my “self”. If it helps you to identify me to tag me with a label, be my guest, but you can be assured that if you want me to actually wear it, you may end up quite disappointed. Now it’s me who decides who I am. That black shoe didn’t fit. The white one, I’ve never worn. But now my shoe fits. If you insist that my shoe needs a label, the only label that I’ll acknowledge is the one called Kharim.
It is liberating to lose the label and walk in the proper shoe. I always saw myself as being black and all those years I lived that reality and there was not a thing of it that I enjoyed. I hated it. But ever since I changed my own label, and how I see myself, it’s really fantastic…all that hell on earth has disappeared. Like I said, it’s been almost three years now and I am telling you, for me it’s been a whole new world and the pain is gone, just like that. I always agreed with Michael Jackson when he said,
“I’m not going to spend my life being a colour!”
It made perfect sense to me. I just didn’t know how to apply that, until now. I’m done with the label now and I feel great. Emancipated!
I am not black anymore. I am me, and now I’m free.
Kharim Hogan is a professional photographer specializing in the creation of dynamic and high-impact commercial and corporate portraits. She is also the creator and director of workshops focused on self-discovery through photography. She loves writing and story-telling and being on stage. Kharim is constantly launching new projects simply because she can and it’s fun to do. Kharim created an online magazine which can be viewed at HoganVisions.com. Her photography portfolio is at N-Dimensions.com. Her latest passions are snowboarding and wakeboarding. She believes that we’re here to have fun so that’s the philosophy that drives her!