What About Bob?: My White Friend Who REALLY Wanted To Be Black


When I was in middle school in Frankfurt, Germany, I had a friend named Bob Dobalina. Obviously this isn't his real name, but a name I've made up to protect the identity of said friend….who is not named Bob Dobalina. But we shall call him that. Mr. Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina. Bob would be 36 now, just as I am. But back in the early 1990s, when we were aged 12-13, Bob was unique amongst my group of friends. It was a motley crew of Black and white kids - all of us Army brats - who didn't live on base and had to catch the Frankfurt Untergrundbahn (the German equivalent of the subway, Metro, BART, SEPTA, MARTA, etc.) from home to school and back. U2-Bad Homburg-Gonzeheim fo' lyfe.


There were three white kids in this crew. Bob, Aaron, and  Mike, who was Aaron's younger brother. Since this was the early 90s, Black culture was making its full ascendance and Aaron wanted to be Michael Jordan so badly it was hilarious. I mean, we all wanted to be Jordan, but Aaron would come out to play basketball in full Bulls gear, and would try to mimic Jordans moves to the T, even proclaiming that he always got to be Jordan. As a point of note, of the entire crew, I was the only who actually played on our school's basketball team.

Of course hip-hop was also becoming huge at this point and white kids were all in on it. Hell, Aaron, whose favorite group was - of course - Public Enemy, used to put me up on game on the newest rap acts out of who knows where. In the early 90s (and let's be real, continuing through present day) everybody became obsessed with Black culture. Some more obsessed than others - like Aaron - attempting to emulate and prove how down they were at all turns. I never saw him rock an African medallion, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he had one because thats what all the cool kids had. They/He didn't really want to be Black or date Black women, but wanted that Black cool and swagger. They wanted the good, but not the bad. These are the Black for a day types who'd like to see what it felt so they could take those lessons back to their regular life and be cooler than they were the day before.


Bob, on the other hand, wanted to be Black. He said this to me on multiple occasions. He was a cool little white kid with spiky hair who loved to play basketball and wear Jordans and was into ninja culture, comic books, and hip-hop. He didn't over do anything. He was just himself. But the himself that he was truly wished he were Black. He used to tell me how lucky I was to be Black and how much he wished his skin were darker. He wanted the Black girls to be into him. He probably knew as much Black history as most of us. All of the things that came natural to me, like, ya know, being Black, are who he thought he should be. He wanted to be the same Jordan wearing ninja-loving, comic book, hip-hop fan, but the Black version. He wanted the good and the bad. The Black struggle and condition is something he wanted to fight for.

He was the non-obnoxious version of MC Serch's character in Bamboozled. In the McKinney, TX video, he'd have wanted to be the kid who got sat down on the ground unfairly, not the white kid taping the whole thing who never even seemed to register to the police that he was there. Bob was my friend, but I always found it weird that he was so consumed with being something other than who he was. We lost touch after middle school - military folks and all - and his name is too commonplace (literally, his real name might be the third or fourth LEAST googleable name on the planet) for me to find him, but if I found out he attended an HBCU and was a Sigma who went on to get his PhD in African American Studies at some Ivory Tower school in the northeast I wouldn't be surprised in the least. He was that invested at age 12. Of course, it could have just been a phase. But I didn't think so. It felt too real to him, like who he believed himself to be at his core, was a Black person. Bob was aces. His desire for Blackness never caused any problems. It was just one of those things lingering in the air.

And while I never asked him, we were kids after all, later in life I always wondered…what happened? How did you get to that point?

I've known a few folks like Rachel Dolezal. I mean, they're not liars like she is. That woman has issues. It's one thing to want to be Black and investing yourself so fully that you effectively live a Black life. It's something altogether different to lie about so many facets of your life that its almost impossible to believe any of it, which elevates her pseudo-Black life to the level of both laughable fascination and sociopathic WTFness. But I've know a few white women, in particular, who were so…Black, that I actually just assumed they were lightskinned. In fact, it never registered to me at all that they weren't mixed. Their speech, their interests, their style, their essence was just…Black. That undefinable thing that Black folks inherently know. Of course, there's another half to that; I never thought to question their race because who in the hell is passing in reverse? I know folks love and entrench themselves in the culture, but there's really no denying their whiteness. So in my mind, folks ain't just gon' be Black unless they don't have much choice in the matter. None of these women lied, they just didn't volunteer the answer to the question I never thought to ask.


Of course, there's nothing wrong with being Black, but passing as Black seems to be an odd choice because aside from setting trends daily and being literally cooler than everybody else, there isn't much societal benefit to it. The entire power structure is set against you. Who the hell actively wants THOSE problems? As a Black person, every mile is a fuckin' marathon. You just don't sign up for that. To be fair, all days aren't bad days or anything. I love being Black and I've got a pretty good life going. I'm speaking less as an individual and more as a race.

So each time I've found out that a person I assumed was mixed was Blackin' it up I've immediately felt some kind of way. It starts to feel like an act; possibly an act being played so well that life has begun to imitate art, but at some point, maybe early in the beginning, its an act. Something, somewhere says, hey, I'm gonna do this one thing that is "what Black people do" because thats how I feel. After that doesn't cause any ripples there's another layer, then another until the person in the mirror possibly looks like the person in your mind and it is now just who you are. And there's nothing wrong with that, on its face. But creating an entirely separate, new persona from who you are and lying is a whole new ballgame. Especially in the case of Rachel Dolezal - as has been said - where nothing she accomplished couldn't have been done as the white woman that she is.


You have to wonder what these folks were like before they began their own "transition". Who are they underneath the new person they are? Rachel Dolezal has gone to great and head-scratching lengths to be who she is today. She is UBER committed to the cause…I mean…she learned how to do Black woman's hair.


That's dedication. I know lots of Black women who can't do Black hair. Not only did she learn, she can do OTHER women's hair. Nigga. She gave up the full ghost on that one. She's one of many. She just took it too far and got comfortable. Like Damon said, she went in waaaaaaaaaaaaay toooooooooo deep. She's out with the wolves now, lost to the undercover assignment she started years ago. I don't doubt her love for Blackness. I think its real. I think her affection for the Black community and culture is legit and real


Just like Bob. Bob just happened to be upfront about his wish. Rachel? Not so much. She let everybody else wonder enough without feeling a need to ask and it all eventually blew up in her face when she started taking jobs and fighting the cause in the name of Black folks. As a Black folks. That, is a bridge too far.

I wonder if Bob's still on that bridge.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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Why do we have to continue validating people like Rachel and their privilege to decide their identities? As a community, we give folks waaay too many cool points for being down when we shun our own for not being down enough.