(E)racing the Fourth Amendment

It’s been almost two years since I pledged allegiance to the United States of America – that is to say, became an American citizen. Before that, I was a permanent resident of America and a citizen of the United Kingdom. Yet, I became a black American long before I acquired American citizenship. Unlike citizenship, black racial naturalization was always available to me, even as I tried to make myself unavailable for that particular Americanization process. Given the negative images of black Americans on 1970s British television and the intra-racial tensions between blacks in the U.K. and blacks in America, I was not eager, upon my arrival to the United States, to assert a black American identity. My parents had taught me “better” than that. But I became a black American anyway. Before I freely embraced that identity it was ascribed to me. This ascription is part of a broader social practice wherein all of us are made intelligible via racial categorization. My intelligibility was skin deep. More particularly, it was linked to the social construction of blackness, a social construction whose phenotypic reach I could not escape. Whether I liked it or not, my everyday social encounters were going to reflect standard racial scripts about black American life.