"You are a good type of black person. You speak so well and you have a good job."
In some form or fashion, that caveat has been cast on people of color all across the nation. The incessant need for others to classify my blackness in the context of some arbitrarily defined scale of honorable existence is amazingly offensive. Depending on one's point of view, Condoleezza Rice could be a model for how all black people should be; to others, she's a sellout and not black at all. It's as if we walk around operating under the assumption that there's only one form of righteous black person -- the one we approve of.
Bill James last year decried the entire black community with his assault on "moral sewers," heaping on black people the collective responsibility for each other's representation. The burden of representing our race is put on so many of us, from those in the spotlight to the young person sitting as the only black in a college lecture hall. Many don't say it, but we rage against the dreaded requirement to represent.
We are humans, with incredible genetic, social and actionable diversity, and part of being free is the ability to exercise that diversity through living. So this continued conversation of what black people should be like or what we should do is hypocritical to the very democracy that orders our society. I, as a black man, should not be asked on a daily basis to assimilate or pattern my actions after some made-up value system of blackness.
Black people must be careful how we fall into this line of thinking, beginning expressly with our definition of blackness. We operate ourselves in a limbo between Uncle Tom and Allen Iverson, with a constant need to somehow define black somewhere in the middle.
There is no black authenticity; there are things we experience primarily in our communities, but to say there is a specific code of behavior, way of speaking or a way of dressing is regressive. Our young people deserve the totality of the freedom our predecessors have fought to secure for us. That means as a black man I must afford myself the trappings and experiences of the entire world, not just the things marketed to my demographic.
I don't assert that we destroy our heritage. What I implore is that, more than ever, young black people need to know the world is ours. Some young blacks live in communities where socioeconomics have already limited their opportunities. Why should we further close their worlds by saying their race precludes them from listening to a certain music, reading a certain book or having a particular interest.
We must let blackness speak for itself. I feel cheated when I am reminded that because I am black, certain things are for me and certain things aren't. Black people are a complex, diverse group of individuals who are still beginning to enjoy the benefits of the centuries-long fight for freedom. Our ancestors were judged inhumane as a group, irrespective of their education, wealth or integrity. They fought as a monolithic community so that one day their children would begin to be judged on their individual merits.
Because I have a custom shirt and briefcase makes me no more or less black. I am not a credit to my race because of my job or my outward appearance. I can only be a credit to myself, and that's the way it should be.
Decker Ngongang, a native of Charlotte, is a financial professional and committed citizen.