Carrie Hawks used to care about showing a Black Card. Not the high-limit line of credit, either.
We’re talking about that imaginary card that allegedly validates our blackness. A card so widely talked and joked about, it’s inspired fun card games and a hilarious BET game show, “Black Card Revoked.”
But friends get mean and divisive over how much you know about black culture. Some black folk will roast you if you don’t know certain black history factoids or sing Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday.” Stereotypes dictate blackness.
For Carrie, who grew up in Kansas City, this meant being ostracized for not liking fried chicken and hot sauce. Or hip-hop. Carrie was side-eyed for listening to alternative rock and going through a goth phase.
But white people count on black stereotypes, too. New York University served watermelon-flavored water and Kool-Aid at a Black History Month event. Yeah. That happened in 2018.
Growing up, white people would tell Carrie, “You’d be pretty if you weren’t black.” And one time, at a slumber party with Pembroke Hill classmates, a white girl assumed that any black people there would be carrying a gun in their purse.
At lunch, the white kids sat together, and the black kids sat together. Carrie didn’t feel accepted anywhere.
“You think you’re in a group and a comment happens, and you are like, ‘Actually they don’t see me,’” says Carrie, who goes by the pronouns “they” and “them.” “And you add queerness on top of that, the religion aspect and these thoughts of, ‘Oh, there’s something evil about you.’ I was feeling like there was something wrong with me a lot of the time, and this was before the internet. I couldn’t see all these other black people listening to Depeche Mode or exploring their identity.”
Carrie’s quest for self-love, acceptance and unapologetic blackness led them to create a short, animated documentary, “black enuf*.” The 23-minute film includes family interviews, first-person narrative and animated memories. The screening and Q&A at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Friday is expected to be sold out. The film has been accepted to a number of film festivals, including CinemAfrica’s Film Festival in Sweden and New York City Feminist Film Week.
But Carrie’s hope is that more educators will use the film to nurture inclusion in schools. The documentary doesn’t just cover blackness, queerness and feeling like an oddball. It covers depression and cutting, too. Creating a dialogue will help ease the burdens so many teens carry.
“Being a teenager is so hard. There are so many things happening. Even if you’re physically safe, it is so difficult figuring out who you are and valuing yourself,” Carrie says. “I felt ugly most of the time. I had a lot of great teachers and made friends. But that timing in life when teenagers are guiding themselves, their insecurities and don’t feel comfortable in themselves is hard.”
Carrie, now 38, left Kansas City after high school and attended Barnard College in New York to study art history and printmaking. But the journey, as detailed in the film, started in a very divided KC.
“With segregation, your world is limited,” Carrie says. “You’re already told where to be. I remember driving east of Troost, and it was like, ‘Oh, the houses and streets aren’t kept up. And then you get past a point on Troost and, ‘Oh things look a little cleaner. Oh you live on that side of Troost.’ I think that plays a role in how you feel about yourself.”
Those insecurities went with Carrie to college. It wasn’t until a visit to Atlanta that things started to change. There were so many black people, being themselves, outside of the restricted lines of stereotypes. There was Afrobeat, some black vegans, a rich black middle class and lots of black indie rockers.
“In Atlanta, I felt more of a freedom to explore things I was told black people don’t do,” Carrie says. “If a black person tries it, a black person does it. Black people are so diverse there is not one way of doing anything. There are many different types of beauty, many different ways of being, and that’s what I want to celebrate.”
Carrie eventually returned to New York to work at online magazine Bustle as a motion graphics designer. But “black enuf*” has been in the making for seven years.
“When I started making this film I was definitely not as secure in my identity and pride in myself as I was at the end of the film,” Carrie says. “A lot of these conversations I had never had before. I learned to love myself more and accept myself more. To the people who may see themselves in the film, we need to celebrate ourselves and see ourselves reflected. There are people out there like you. And to people who are not black, queer and gender non-conforming, the film allows you to build empathy. Everyone has those feelings of doubting yourself or not being included.”
In the opening of the film, Carrie says, “My blackness doesn’t have to look like yours. Neither does my queerness.”
Black Card: destroyed.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc.
“black enuf*” will be shown in a free screening at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Atkins Auditorium at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The event is sold out, but any no-show seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.