I have not experienced being a black female academic with over two decades of experience in academia yet still being discriminated against as has Angela Mae Kupenda in Presumed Incompetent. Neither have I experienced the many struggles that are a part of leading liberation movements as has Beverly Guy-Sheftall in Words of Fire. I have experienced a seemingly incessant wave of questions concerning my race and, for this reason, I can most relate to the frustration Jackie Kay expresses in the poem, “So you think I’m a mule.”
Like Kay, my frustration stems from others’ desires to define my race in a conflicting fashion on the basis of their preconceived notions. I am a black American; my mother is black, my father is black, and I identify as black. However, because my skin tone appears light to people, I am often met with questions regarding my race. In these situations, I usually do not mind the questions. Others’ interest only becomes a nuisance after I respond to their question about my race with “I am black” and they continue to press on—urging me to tell the truth and unveil what I am hiding, questioning my certainty about my identity, and outright insisting that I cannot be “just” black (as if black is not enough). After much frustration with me, they sigh in disappointment at the fact that I am “only” black because their words have already said it.
At the heart of these exchanges is the fact that throughout American history, and still today, whiteness remains the standard of beauty. What follows from this is the misconception that people want to be defined in a way that brings them closer to being white. I see this reflected in my conversations with others about race in general, and I also see it reflected in this poem.