Origins – To Be Black

origins to be black

Anthony Bittner   •   2

I came into my Blackness late in the game.  As a child of mixed race who was raised by my white mother in rural Michigan, I had no connection to my Black father, my Black family, or Black culture.  As a result, it wasn’t something that I actively spent time thinking about.  It certainly wasn’t something I spent any time talking about.  I did endure the occasional jab by class bullies.  “Hey, Oreo! I bet your mom’s favorite ice cream is chocolate vanilla twist!”  And there were the familiar inquiries by friends and strangers alike.  “Can I touch your hair? Why does it feel like that?”  More than once, I remember uncles tossing out racial slurs in my presence, but the comments weren’t intended for me, so I awkwardly ignored them.  In high school, two of my romantic relationships ended when their parents forced them to break up with me because their white daughters shouldn’t be dating Black boys.  It certainly stung, but I was a teenage boy juiced up on newly emerging hormones, constantly worried about social status in a group of friends that was made up entirely of couples.  My priority wasn’t in fighting the injustice.  I’d simply move on and date someone whose parents weren’t ignorant.

Anthony Bittner and his mom
Anthony and his mom.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I started to connect to my Blackness and Black culture.  I made my very first Black friend – Jenise, a fellow musician in the school of music.  After getting to know one another and her learning that I had a rather limited experience with the culture, she pledged to be my mentor for all things Black.  She took me to her hometown of Detroit and introduced me to her friends and family.  Her mother, whom I instantly adored, became my “Black Mama.”  Jenise took me places where, for the first time in my two decades of living, I was surrounded by majority Black folk.  It would feel dishonest if I didn’t mention how often I felt uncomfortable or anxious, but at the same time, it was fun and exciting.  I could feel a connection starting to take root.

It was during my adventures in the Motor City that I developed my very first crush on a Black girl – one of the friends I met through Jenise.  She was fun, she was kind, and she was beautiful.  I couldn’t get her out of my mind, but I didn’t have the nerve to make my feelings known.  So…I employed the most sophomoric of strategies and had Jenise [reluctantly] relay my crush.  In return, I got a very specific kind of rejection.  This girl thought I was funny, and she thought I was cute enough, but I just wasn’t Black enough.  I was wrecked in a way I hadn’t felt before.  I mean…I had a girlfriend in high school that got kicked out of her home for dating me because I was Black, but now I was facing rejection because I wasn’t quite Black enough.  That wasn’t something I had considered was a possibility before then.  I had just started to feel a kind of inclusion and safety in a community that I thought would shelter me from the differentism I experienced being the singular Black boy in a mostly white community.  But that differentism was proving itself inescapable.

I had so many questions.  So many conflicting feelings.  So many confusing thoughts.  And for the first time in my life, I began thinking about what it was to be Black.  More specifically, I began to process what it was to be simultaneously too Black and not Black enough.

Anthony ‘Tony’ Bittner is a musician, storyteller, and activist who recently relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina from Chicago, Illinois. He is passionate about social justice and DEI in both his personal and professional lives. Tony strives to use his art to entertain, educate, and inspire.