Black Is, Brown Ain’t

Black is apparently me after too much sun. My aunty in Bangalore asked, “Who’s going to marry you if you’re so black?”

[This piece was first published in The Gaysi Zine Edition 2]

Black is the student-sit in during undergrad that I refused to support because I didn’t think they were inclusive enough of diversity. Diversity meant: Asian, International, and Queer. Diversity meant me.

Black is Antwaun, the third boy I ever kissed. We met at the Gay and Lesbian Center youth program in New York City. We held hands and walked down Chelsea Pier. It was the closest I came to having a teenage romance. Two years ago, I ran into him at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen—few words were exchanged before we stumbled behind some curtains to make out. Then he said, “Sorry. I need to go and find my boyfriend.”

Black is the men who watched Rita Marely in concert on Labadi Beach in Ghana from the periphery of the crowd, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders or fingers intertwined. I wanted to talk to them. But I was sixteen years old, with my mother, watching Rita Marley sing One Love.

Black is the teenager who called me “Fuckin’ Osama” in front of my house in Chicago.

Black is Patience, our family cook who raised me in Ghana from age two. Who fed me groundnut soup, samosas, and daal pakwaan when I visited her at her one bedroom apartment in Maryland two years ago. Who called me several weeks ago to say, “I don’t want you to be a gay. I want you to marry and have children. OK?” I said, “OK.” I ignored her phone call today.

Black is my teachers. Class 1: Mrs. Rose. Class 2: Mrs. Kyei. Class 3: Mrs. Crabbe. Geography: Mr. Pecku. Dance: Aunty Baba. Music: Mr. Ayivey. Drama: Mrs. Dove. Physics: Mr. Gbedemah. English: Ms. Kuffour. Postcolonial theory: Dr. Madison. Diaspora theory: Dr. Richards. Queer and feminist theory: Dr. Johnson.

Black is apparently me after too much sun. My aunty in Bangalore asked, “Who’s going to marry you if you’re so black?”

Black is fetishized dark-skinned South Indian men who are described on PlanetRomeo as “black mallus with big cock.”

Black is the queens of “Paris is Burning” who constantly school me in the politics of performance.

Black is the African men and women in Bangalore who are not allowed into bars because they are assumed to be drug dealers, and prostitutes. They are mostly college students.

Black is the woman at the bakery in Osu, a primary shopping district in Accra, who would tell me how beautiful I was every time I went there with my mother after school. She wore a green apron, hairnet, and clear plastic gloves, and I was always in my school uniform.

Black is the population of African Americans that are unjustly and disproportionately incarcerated. Several of my black friends have family members in the prison system. I do not know anyone in the prison system.

Black is Eduardo the Dominican boy who I thought was desi and was crushing on in my first week of college.  I had never met Latino men prior to being in the U.S.; they don’t all look like Ricky Martin.

Black is Panthro. Even though he was blue, I was always sure he was black. “Thundercats, hoooooooooo!”

Black is the women I have lipsynched to in drag: Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, Martha Wash, Pepper Mashay, Rihanna again.

Black is “Ghettofabulous,” the theme of a fraternity party I organized my sophomore year. A friend asked if this was an offensive theme and I said “no.” He assumed I had the politically correct opinion because I was brown.

Black is my cook’s three-year-old daughter to whom I would say, “Go away” when she tried to watch cartoons with me in the TV room. I was a wicked boy.

Black is Sam, the beautiful barista in Chicago who I thought was desi and hetero. Even when he hit on me by complimenting my glitter-covered Vans.

Black is David, our houseboy in Ghana. Who I hoped would catch me jerking off one day so that we could re-enact the sex stories I read on the internet.

Black is the woman Amitabh Bachchan thinks is dark enough to use as eyeliner. “Jiski biwi kali usska bhi bara naam hai |Aankhon mein basalo surme ka kya kam hai”

Black is Yaw, our driver in Ghana. He wore this ridiculous matching shirt-pant set made from orange upholstery fabric that my mother had gifted him. I had heard my cousin talk about sex with his driver—about how he squeezed his wife’s breasts till they turned blue. So I asked Yaw about his sex life. He avoided my questions.

Black is Simone, my Jamaican floor-mate in my first year of college. I liked the song she was blaring for the floor to hear. When I asked her what song this was, she said, “No, no. It’s nothing,” and switched it off. “From dem a par inna chi chi man car | Blaze di fire mek we bun dem!!!! (Bun dem!!!!) | From dem a drink inna chi chi man bar | Blaze di fire mek we dun dem!!!! (Dun dem!!!!).” It’s really very catchy.

Black is the reason Indians in Ghana keep their jewelry locked in a Godrej cupboard.

Black is Jane, the Kenyan nanny raising my nieces. Who sings “Desi Girl” to them, but alters the lyrics: “Amazing girl, amazing girl girl girl girl…”

Black is the “karas” and “kallus” that my desi friends and relatives in the U.S. and Ghana repeatedly insult despite living with, employing, and perhaps even having sex with them.

Black is often in the “not interested in ___” box on dating profiles. Usually, this is more inclusive, and succinctly reads “White guys only.”

Black is the bodies that inhabited the cells of Elmina Castle, the slave port to which we repeatedly took class-trips while I was at Ghana International School. We entered cells and were shown the narrow doorway through which slaves were herded on to ships. We played Catchers and Hide & Seek through the cells.

Black is my cousins who I have not yet met. Grandchildren from my grandfather’s affair with a Ghanaian woman. A family I didn’t know I had until a few years ago.

About the author

KareemPuff

Academic, activist, artist. Believes in glitter, neon, paisleys, sequins, mehndi, mohawks, dessert, materiality, and feelings. Abstract, but not obscure.