Little Culture: The Death of Harvey and the Rebirth of Kawaun — How I Turned A New Leaf After Whitewashing My Identity for Success.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” — Hunter S. Thompson
When I was little boy my dream was to be an eye doctor on a motorcycle and I was dead serious. I was eight at the time and I had no idea how I was going to accomplish that. I was definitely smart enough. It wasn’t until my mom stood up for me that my teacher’s recognized my lack of interest in classes was a sign that I just wasn’t being challenged by the material. While the other kids were reading children’s books in first grade, I was reading Harry Potter.
My mother and I knew that I had something special — just special enough to get ourselves away from the influences that drive young men like me to prison at a young age. I was definitely the right statistic. I was the product of a teen pregnancy, too smart for my own good, spoiled, unable to process difficult emotions and my father had went to prison so it seemed like I was destined to follow in his footsteps.
Then, a miracle happened. I say its a miracle because this was the first time in my life I had beat the odds. I graduated high school and was bound for college. My grades weren’t the best because I was lazy and even though I didn’t know it at the time I had an anxiety disorder that played a huge role in my ability to focus. I got into a few schools but ultimately chose to go to Penn State. College in itself was an expensive mistake for me but we’ll talk about that later.
At the time, 4% of the student population at Penn State was black. My cousin had told me that statistic the night I went to my first frat party. When I went to college, I knew that there was going to be a significant culture difference but I didn’t realize how afraid that culture difference made me feel. With that fear, I compromised my identity and Harvey Richards was born.
College is probably the most pivotal time for a young person to begin to understand their identity. I created Harvey because Harvey was easier for white people to pronounce. The name wasn’t exactly white but it also wasn’t too black. When I introduced myself as Kawaun I usually had to repeat myself a few times for the other person to get it, Harvey never had that problem.
I did grow up listening to punk rock so that made it easier to bond with my white cohorts. I spoke “properly” which is white people speak for I didn’t sound like a n*gga. I even wore ties. In fact, I dressed up every day and when I didn’t people thought that I was going through a depression. The worst part of it all was that I never explored what it was like to be around my black peers in college. Honestly, I was afraid of that too.
Harvey got the job done. Harvey was intelligent. Harvey was successful. Harvey was determined and ambitious. Harvey was brave enough to come out of the closet. Harvey was everything that Kawaun never thought he could be because the world always told him that he couldn’t be it. Fast forward, I’m 29 and moving to Atlanta — the mecca of black culture.
After a string of bad relationships, manipulative friends and being overwhelmed by black gay culture, Harvey had hit rock bottom. With all of my success I had felt more alone than I had been before. I was more depressed than I had been before. My anxiety was out of control. I was threatening people. I just wasn’t myself anymore. I had always been a little sad but now I was lost.
Then, an old friend came back me. It was like the rest of my identity, that I had shoved down for so long, put his hand on my shoulder and told me that it’s time, friend. It’s time for you to become whole again because being this half of a person has destroyed you. So, I made a very simple change. I started going by my actual name.
Just hearing my name again was cathartic. Slowly, I started to regain my sense of self. It was like the dial had been stuck at 50% and finally it was starting to move upward. I still have a ways to go before I can truly connect to the person I’d lost. But, moving forward I will forever be known as Kawaun Lovell Harvey.
Here Are The Lessons I Learned From This Experience:
Lesson 1: You are not a statistic. Growing up as a black gay man you will be told that you are not bound for success. You will be told that the neighborhood you live in will be the home that you stay in for life. You will be told that you will never travel out of the country. You will be told that you will never make enough to pay your own bills and that you’ll probably live off your family for the rest of your life because poverty is the only place for you. And in truth, there will be statistics and evidence to back up those claims. Seriously, f*ck them. You are not a statistic. You are not some random number in a book to support this messed up system that is designed to keep you in shackles. You have everything you need and when you rise I promise, this system won’t be able to stop you.
Lesson 2: Be yourself, always. As people of color we need to stop whitewashing and code-switching ourselves to make room for white identities. There’s more than one way to be professional without compromising your identity or feeling like you’re giving a minstrel show. There’s more than one way to experience other cultures without giving someone else the diet coke version of yourself. It’s time you let these b*tches know who you are, unapologetically.
Lesson 3: Investing in yourself is the best defense to the worlds challenges. Life is going to throw a truck at you no matter what. If you’re a minority, life is going to throw several trucks at you. Being sure about the person that you are is the only way to swat away the bullsh*t. Invest time into yourself every day. Read that book you never read. Do that skincare routine you never did. You are worth the investment and the results will always be phenomenal.
Here’s What I’m Doing About It:
Firstly, I moved to Atlanta and got myself some gay black male friends. I’m sure my mom was proud of me for this one. These are my people. If anyone can relate to the things I go through every day, it’s them. This doesn’t resolve the problem but I quickly noticed what it was that I was lacking in reference to my own culture. I even realized that it was up to me to define my own shade of blackness and shed myself of the idea of what I thought being black was supposed to be.
Like sexuality blackness is a spectrum. What binds us isn’t the few personality traits that are defined by society, but struggles that we all face in trying to be our best selves. It’s part of the reason that it hits so hard every time a “say her/his/they name” campaign hits social media. I had to learn that being exactly who I am, as I am was enough to hold my black card because no matter what music I listen to (musical theater) or what tv shows I love (anime) when I get pulled over by the police I’m still just another n*gga.
I’m still exploring the range of black culture, but so far I’ve discovered a love for different types of music, an interest is art that I didn’t even know existed and I finally begun to feel connected to style through the eyes of black fashion designers. And let me tell you, black fashion is IT!!!
My favorite activity in trying to connect to my culture was in cooking. I started to ask my mom for family recipes, things that I used to eat as a child. She didn’t give me specific measurements for seasoning so I really had to listen to the ancestors on this one. Through trial and error, I learned not just how to cook, but how to throw down. I was cleaning plates b*tch and left no crumbs.
Connecting to your culture lies in understanding where you come from and educating yourself on the people and influences that made it possible for you to be where you are. Its in showing love to your friends and being vulnerable with those that you love. It’s about opening yourself up to ideals, both old and new. But mostly, it’s just about trying. Try to meet people who understand the struggles you go through. Try to go to that black-owned restaurant instead of what white establishment. Try to listen to different perspectives of blackness through podcasts, television and other media forms. If we all try a little harder maybe we can feel a little culture in ourselves.