His Blackness is a Portal to a Deeper Understanding

Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 7:42pm
Photo by Spencer Platt

His Blackness is a Portal to a Deeper Understanding

by Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism),  associate producer


I resist any notions that there is one way to be black, and I have defined myself and my life with that in mind, and as something that will evolve as I continue to grow and learn. What my "blackness" means to me — the blood quotient, the color of my skin — is an evolving, dynamic process. My grandfather, for example, who had a black mother and a white father, although he was not raised by his father, has had an extraordinary "black experience" in his lifetime. His trials, challenges, and his struggles growing up in Louisiana constitute a great "black" story. The fabric is threaded deep. So to say that there is some sort of hegemonic African-American experience is to discount so many individual experiences we've all had.


Each black person has his or her own individual yearning; it is one that is and should be part of an important ideal for black culture, because this is a collective struggle, but it is also important in the struggle waged by humanity in general. I think it was Henry Louis Gates who said that he luxuriates in his blackness, but that in the end, his blackness is merely a portal into a deeper understanding of humanity. I agree, and so one of the gifts that my skin color allows for is a better appreciation of the texture of humanity and a deeper ability to feel compassion.


Celebrating and luxuriating in my blackness and gaining access to that portal not only helps me to feel a powerful bond with other black people, other people of color, but also with humanity as a whole, people who have had different experiences than I have. My understanding of self allows me access to others, and what I think is most important for us all to strive toward a sort of social justice where we create a sense of kinship with others who have had both similar and not so similar experiences.

— Cory Booker, in Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls

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Mariah Helgeson is an associate producer at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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