Chum: Breathing in the Black Lives Matter Movement
“Too black for the white kids, and too white for the black.”
That’s a line from the 2013 single ‘Chum’ by African-American rapper Earl Sweatshirt. It’s also a line that has continued to plague me since I first heard it seven years ago.
The Black Lives Matter movement has quite possibly been the single most important milestone in the tragic tapestry that has become 2020… outside of that little pandemic thing people are also worried about.
Riots of love and war have consumed the populous as black people have united under one banner to rise up and say, “Fuck it, that’s enough”. And it would seem the voice of one has spiralled into the uproar of millions, an endless list of oppressed human beings shouting in unison, “We can’t breathe.”
Not I. But WE.
So… why do I feel outside of the revolution? I am, after all, a black man in my early 20s. But I guess what this all boils down to is what kind of black man am I?
I was born in Ethiopia and adopted at nine months old. I was raised in Australia in an almost entirely white community. My family is white. My friends are white. And yet, I believe I have never completely noticed that I am not.
The first time I ever really acknowledged that my skin tone was darker than my peers was when a kid in my second-grade class mistook me for being an Indigenous Australian. And that’s the thing: for the majority of my life, I have never faced overtly degrading racism — to an extent. Instead, it’s been a compilation of subtle remarks, misunderstandings and the dominance of a narrative from the United States bearing down on Australian culture.
It is as if American-influenced media has crafted a consumable black character that we all must adhere to for any sense of belonging or sympathy. Because I played basketball for a year as a kid, people assumed I would be a star player. Because I went through a hip-hop phase as a teenager, people assumed I could “spit a verse”. Because I looked like that “baller”, that “rapper” or some character from a movie, people assumed that the N word would fuel some sort of reaction from me.
But that isn’t me. None of it is.
What that is, is a mythology. A condensed and easily acceptable narrative non-blacks have broadcast in an attempt to humanise a race once considered second class. It is the subtle racism I speak of that allows society to believe that they are being both inclusive and respectable of the modern black person.
However, as soon as any one of us steps out of the cookie-cutter curves that bind us to a conveyer belt of corporate equality, suddenly we are the troublemakers. Or, at the very least, we are no longer consumable. Sure, the world loves and accepts us when we are what we’re supposed to be, but it’s like we are drowned out as soon as we try to be who we actually are.
What I am is not a star player of basketball; I’m just a kid who wanted to try it out. What I am is not a rapper; I’m just a teenager who liked hip-hop music… and indie, and rock, and anything I could get my hands on. What I am is not an embodiment of the N word; I’m just a guy who is offended when I am called it… along with “cunt”.
In 2007, anthropologist Steven Vertovec coined the term, “superdiversity” – referring to a social science that suggests our current age is facing an influx in new cultures birthed from migration. This has seen entirely new identities forged like flakes of snow, never one similar to the last.
The thing is, I may have been born in Ethiopia, but I don’t know my heritage. For all I know, I have a bit of Egyptian in me. Legally, I am Australian, but I have travelled beyond the country I call “home”. For years, I have interacted with people who have welcomed me into their lives and their cultures. I have consumed media that has spanned the globe: watching anime, listening to reggae and eating everything from pasta to burritos. I am superdiverse. Just like you.
It’s not where I came from or what I look like that defines me. It’s what I have allowed to enter my life in the past 22 years, what I have let shape me, that makes me so different.
I have a culture and it’s called Nahum. And Nahum, if you look it as an anagram, says “human”. I am a human being. Not a black man. A human being.
And I guess that is why, personally, I haven’t felt as involved in this current climate. Because I have never seen myself as the typical “black guy”. And, for that matter, no one should. A human being should never be boiled down to one simple trait. We are, if anything, a million strings taken from a million moments, woven together to make something new. Our own tapestries.
It hurts when I am reminded that there is a large percentage of the world’s population who hate me or want me dead without even knowing that I exist. And what hurts most about it is that this hate comes not from something I know I am, but instead something society says I am.
So, what am I fighting for in the realm of Black Lives Matter?
To be seen as me, not just as black.
I don’t want to be stereotyped because the media portrays me as a member of a certain part of society. I don’t want to be successful career-wise because a business needs to hire a black man to fill a void and tick a box (and stroke their ego in the process). I don’t want feel scared travelling to certain parts of the world because, to most people, I am deemed as pure scum. I don’t want to scroll through social media and see people angry react or comment ignorant abuse on marches that assure my future freedom. But mostly, I don’t want to be seen as anything other than Nahum.
The world will try and force-feed you myths, narratives and stereotypes to the point that they will choke you and fill your throat completely. But if one person cannot breathe, then none of us can. After all, we all share the same plain old air.
Oh, by the way, I am not even black. For the record, my skin is chocolate brown, with more in common to a Cadbury’s Favourites box. Yeah, motherfucker, I am sweet as hell and proud of it.