Each year I am asked “so what are you doing for your birthday” . Usually nothing. As a child, I once did, but that joy was quickly taken away from me. I didn’t know I was the dirty little family secret nobody wanted to talk about. The only problem was, you can’t hide a light that God intended to shine. Everybody knew the truth but me.
I was not my father’s true son. Funny thing is, he treated me better than everyone else. Maybe it was because of the guilt he felt for playing a role in pushing my mother away with his own infidelity. Being the youngest in the hood, dark skinned, male, and speaking like I came out of the womb with a Harvard degree, I was teased mercilessly as a child, usually with my brothers and sisters being the ringleaders along with the other kids, and my mother doing absolutely nothing to stop it.
I would speak and they would call me white, then mimic my every word in proper tone and laugh. Because I studied and understood so many things very well, they awaited every opportunity to humiliate me upon the discovery of any flaw that could make them finally feel they had the better of me.One such flaw was that I had a very small throat as a child. There were some things that were difficult to eat such as nuts, or popcorn, or even grits- coarse foods that tended to have bits that could catch in my throat. Being young, I would panic.
The one birthday party I can recall having, some peanuts got stuck in my throat. My mother would always tell me to eat dry bread and chase it down with some warm water. That seemed to work. This time my throat was so stuck I could hardly breathe so I screamed out for bread. My brothers and sisters laughed. In a panic I ran to get it myself, struggling to climb the fridge to get a slice and then with some water to clear my throat. My mother, hearing the commotion came out and seeing it was over, joined them in laughter, and for the rest of my childhood going into adulthood, they recounted the scene with every opportunity to publicly embarrass me along with mimicking my proper speech and calling me a white boy.
And so I never cared for birthdays. Especially because mine felt more like a chore or an obligation and was never celebrated with the same joy by other family members who attended my siblings’ special days. You see a child knows theses things. A child can feel it. Especially a child who was as gifted as me. I would cry to my mother and ask her what was wrong with me. And she would lie and cover for the callousness of the rest of the family because she felt indebted to them for helping our black sheep hood rat welfare crew survive. I suppose me being the punchline was the sacrifice she made for everyone else being able to eat.
And so my birth was something I felt was never worth celebrating. For as much as there are those who admire the work that I do, a man’s existence and worth is most validated by the love and acceptance of those closest to him. And that does not always come from the family to which you are born, but the family that life ultimately gives to you. I am deeply humbled and sincerely overwhelmed by the messages of love given to me even before this day in recognition of my birth. Most of you I will never know face to face, but I have never felt more at home than in the place you have made for me in your hearts. Thank you for making me feel worthy of existence. I love you. -NEO BLAQNESS