Kiera Breaugh

 

The catalyst of “Barely Black” was my professor asking me if I identified as African American. My response was, “sometimes”.

When I went to University to study dance in Los Angeles, I had no idea about the racial awakening that was in store for me. As a biracial woman, I had never investigated my racial identity before, because I had grown up in a white household and community. Though I had experienced racist comments and prejudice my whole life, I did not have the tools or the mentors at the time to unpack what I was going through and how it would affect my identity. When I got to university, it became clear that my identity was in fact not mine, but belonged to the eyes of the beholder – or so it seemed. Some Black people would welcome me with open arms into their community, others felt I was too white. Some white people turned to me to resolve an argument about the use of the N word in a white person’s mouth, others called me barely Black, saying my skin tone resembled theirs after a warm summer. I became very confused as it seemed others felt they had the right to define me, when I had not yet dared to define myself.

So, when my professor asked me how I identified, it led to a much longer discussion. She had asked because she wanted me to create a piece for a show she was putting together about the Black experience. She asked me to create a spoken word score that I would dance to. I vividly remember sitting down to write it, and the words spilling out of me immediately, as though they had been waiting to burst out of me for years:

Some of my friends say I am barely black.
We compare skin tones like nail polish.
They say I’m barely black.
Barely black
Barely black-
But still not white.
Barely black but still not white.

They all said straight,
All the boys in my grade said straight hair is better,
They all said straight.
They ask me what my hair looks like straight,
They say I’m barely black.
Disrupting the illusion,
Because if I am barely black,
I better act like it,
But my hair can’t remember her lines.
One of my friends calls me the N word
Sometimes,
It’s a joke,
I pretend it doesn’t bother me.

My friends beg me to straighten my hair sometimes,
I pretend it doesn’t bother me.
My dance teacher used to call me her little black girl sometimes,
I pretend it doesn’t bother me

They ask me what my hair looks like straight,
They wonder what it looks like straight.

They say I’m barely black.

You’re barely black,
Let’s compare skin colours.
You’re almost as light as I am.
Why do you wear your hair curly?
It looks so much better straight.
You’re barely black.
Please, please straighten it! I just wanna see what it would look like.
You’re our little black girl.
It’s just a joke!
You should wear your hair straight more often, it looks so much better .
It looks so cute straight!

This piece helped me grab a hold of my identity and claim it as my own for the first time in my life.

 

 

Photo: Kiera Breaugh, by Aidan Tooth