Kenneth L. Hardin: I don’t suffer from an identity crisis

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 30, 2022

As a writer and motivational speaker, I often quote profound and inspirational people. Recently, I reached all the way back to my childhood of the 1970s and pulled from a man who was a hero and inspiration to me. Popeye the Sailor Man famously said, “I yam what I yam” and I agree.

I was talking with my first grade teacher recently about my past editorials and she noted that I evenly criticize and opine about issues that impact all cultures and ethnicities equally. She added that I never attack anyone individually or personally. I’ve been on the receiving end of hate and personal attacks, so I have no ill will, malicious intent, or desire to engage in hateful discourse. My goal is to provoke thought and elicit enough emotion that it results in a visceral reaction from the reader. I don’t believe in tribalism or subscribe to the herd mentality so popular today. I want people to think independently and move away from believing they have to think and feel like those they share an incidental and irrelevant physical character trait or misguided socio-political philosophy. I have neither the desire or need to be liked, accepted, included, or invited. At nearly 60 years old I have enough real friends, have outgrown the infantile need for an adult playdate and forgo the sophomoric high jinks of being in a club.

Growing up, I was criticized by other skinfolk and told I wasn’t Black enough simply because I was raised in a stable two parent household with strict rules governing speech, dress, and behavior. There were words and phrases we couldn’t utter nor activities we could engage in. My churchgoing, God fearing, paternal grandmother would repeatedly give her grandkids the directive, “You’re not going to do anything to bring shame on this family name.” We did things most regular Black folks did, but there were some we enjoyed that people who looked like me didn’t readily engage in. We played croquet and badminton in the backyard, took family vacations to places where few other skinfolk hung out, attended church like I was clocking in at a 40 hour per week job, and had weekly family dinners with all the fine linen and fancy dishes. You were expected to know how to use the silverware appropriately. We were like a scaled down, lower budget Cosby Show before Bill and NBC collaborated on the hit TV show. and I caught hell for it. The interesting thing is, decades later, I would stress that same directive to my kids that my grandmother exhorted. I appreciate the diverse cultural awareness now as an adult, but back then, it was hard being me in the hood.

Now contrast that with the three decades I spent in corporate America, where I was continually told that I was too Black and oftentimes too angry. There were times when people, who had no concept of cultural competency or sensitivity, told me I spoke really well or I wasn’t like most Black people they had met. Was this something I should’ve thank them for or got a certificate to hang on my wall? The point is that people will try to make you fit into a box you’re ill fitted for so they can feel comfortable with you. The problem is I don’t suffer from an identity crisis. I refuse to be constrained within the confines of anyone’s box of expectations.

I’m OK with being viewed as a sellout. Rapper/actor Ice Cube had the best response to those who saddled him with that ignominious title, “When I got bused to school, homies called me a sellout. When I started rapping in 1983, bangers called me a sellout. When I left N.W.A., they called me a sellout. When I started doing movies, rappers called me a sellout. When I started my own basketball league, the arena said it was a sellout.”

I’m OK being viewed as the Black boogeyman too. White people, who don’t know me, create a version so scary and heinous that it causes some confused Black people, who they own and control, to shy away from me publicly or they ask me to stop being my authentic self. I had a well-respected Black community leader reach out and ask me to tone down my calling out racism because it was, “messing things up for the rest of the Black people in Salisbury.”

I attended a function at the Depot recently where Black faces were few in attendance. One Brother looked so nervous with his head on a swivel talking to me, it was as if he were afraid his owners would catch a glimpse of him interacting with me.

I’m just happy I have the luxury of being so comfortable with who I am, and I don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association  of Black  Journalists.