“Oh, look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?”
Jerry, Seinfeld, The Dinner Party — Season 5, Ep. 13 (1994).
In 1994, I would have been 14 years old when this episode of Seinfeld first aired. There are many lines that I still remember from Seinfeld, but this one stands out for several reasons. When hearing it for the first time, I thought of racial harmony, inclusion, fairness, and equality. Later – when watching reruns – I was more cynical with thoughts of, “yeah right, that’s not reality,” “where are the Black actors in this group of friends,” and “that’s just a cookie, nothing more nothing less.” Now, when thinking back to that episode I simply think of Jerry’s line, “cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka…lesser babka, I think not.” But I’ll come back to that.
Here in 2021, there will be varying views on Colin in Black and White, but in truth, it was a glimpse into the life of growing up Black. Growing up as a Black woman – a Black person – you find that your life is not the same as many of the people around you. Regardless of what you’re taught or told, regardless of what schools try to keep out of the classroom, brown skin comes with different life lessons.
Watching Colin in Black and White was a reminder of old life lessons, sometimes those experiences leave emotional and/or physical marks that shape us into the people we are today. In brown skin, we live each day hoping those experiences don’t kill us.
Because Kaepernick is biracial some may try to minimize his experiences or marginalize him. However, his experiences were the Black experience. If not for the color of his skin he would not have endured the looks, comments, suspicions, or degradation that comes with growing up Black in America.
The Black experience plays out differently for us all. Though experiences may be similar, mine were not the same as Colin Kaepernick’s. Both of my parents are Black, and I grew up in a household where everyone was like me. I grew up in a household where both of my parents were able to guide me and teach me the realities of life, some realities harsher than others. Having a support system, having a cheering squad prepares you for what lies ahead in life.
I remember teachers holding me back from opportunities and feeling defeated when a teacher told me I could not test for the middle school gifted and talented program. However, upon entering middle school there was relief when teachers in my regular classes would ask, “Why are you in this class?” I was quickly moved into my school’s advanced placement courses. I remember my hair getting wet on a school trip – shrinking and curling. This was followed by speculative eyes and questions of “Why does your hair do that?” and “Can I touch it?” I remember hours of dance classes with an instructor preparing me for tryouts and feeling confident, only later for me to have to tell her I didn’t make the cut. I also remember every special dance skill I was later pulled in to perform that could not be performed by those selected above me. I have been followed in stores, while others have shopped without a care in the world. I also recall being pulled over in the middle of the night by officers. My friends and I were told to exit the vehicle, only to have officers needlessly search my car – no traffic citation was issued. I shed tears for those that didn’t survive this type of encounter and I have disdain for those that don’t acknowledge when race plays a crucial role in disparate treatment.
I’ve been made to feel like an outcast. I’ve been passed over. I’ve been singled out. Clearly every occasion was not related to the color of my skin and I would not dare make such a pronouncement. However, there are clear instances where you examine the treatment you receive or the reception you garner and recognize that the only difference between yourself and others is the color of your skin.
The differences faced based on race, start at an early age and I reflected on my experiences as I watched Colin in Black White.
I applaud Colin Kaepernick in taking a knee and all the others that did. I applaud Colin in Black in White in telling a story that speaks to the true experiences faced by Black people in America. I do not see racism in everything, but to deny that it still exists is recklessness. To deny racism exists is the same as condoning it.
Like that cinnamon babka that Jerry said was not a lesser babka, the color of my skin does not make me less than. The color of my skin does not make rejection of me acceptable; it does not make disparate treatment appropriate; it does not make one’s discrimination against me or anyone else of color lawful or forgivable. I take a backseat to no one.