Editor’s note: This is part of a series that looks at regional blackness and what it’s like being black in various parts of these United States.
Florida is on the map. Somewhere, somehow, we black Floridians stand out from among those in other areas of the nation just because, well, we have a very different style and way of doing things. Maybe you can spot us a mile away by our style, but if you lean in a little closer, you’ll find we also have tiny traits that make us undeniably special.
1. You think you’ve seen George Zimmerman around town.
Ever since Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted, we can’t help thinking we’ve spotted him at every traffic light. Anyone who remotely looks like Zimmerman gets mean mugged. We have not and will not forget the loopholes in the law that still seem to send us into post-traumatic stress disorder when we spot a Zimmerman look-alike.
2. You or your family have attended Florida A&M University or Bethune Cookman University.
It doesn’t matter if we Floridians get into white colleges like Florida State University, the University of Miami or even the University of Florida; we still matriculate at HBCUs in Florida because we believe in them. We believe that our children are safer and that the education is well worth it. FAMU is a feeder school for institutions of higher learning like Yale and Harvard. We believe that if you can make through a financial-aid disaster at an HBCU, you can make it anywhere.
3. You remember when the Florida Classic was in Tampa.
Black Floridians in their 40s and older can sit around the Thanksgiving table and tell you all about when the Florida Classic was held in Tampa and the malls freaked out from having so many black people in one place. Orlando welcomed the historically black football weekend to Central Florida and raked in green tourist dollars, a vision Tampa apparently didn’t have at that time.
4. You remember when Black College Reunion was a real reunion.
We can easily recall the days when everyone loaded the car down and rolled to Daytona Beach to be one with other students from HBCUs from all across the nation. However, several years ago it became Black People Reunion, and we have no idea what happened to the college students.
5. You’re upset that hurricanes don’t have black names.
There’s Hurricane Matthew, Nicole and a host of others, but there hasn’t yet been a hurricane named Malik, Precious or Tameka.
6. You can speak Spanish and have no idea where and how you actually learned it.
Was it from Spanish 1 and 2 in high school, or was it from speeding down Interstate 95 and yelling at passing motorists? Who knows. But we’re fluent, and we’re not afraid to use our broken Spanish. Set foot in Miami and you just may be surprised at how many black people speak Spanish and English well enough not only to know what’s being said about them but also to communicate whatever is necessary.
7. You are only minutes away from a street named after President Barack Obama.
We are a proud people. When the president was first elected, black communities everywhere did the Electric Slide in the middle of the street. Those streets are now named for the first black president. Just kidding. I don’t know if those streets got named after him, but one thing is for sure: If you’re in Florida, you’re somewhere near a President Barack Obama Parkway. After all, the state has more streets named after him than any other state. Look at your GPS. Somewhere, you’re going to roll up on a Barack Obama crossroad.
8. You take out-of-towners past the home where Tiger Woods’ wife hit him with a golf club.
We can’t help it. There’s the tour we take our cousins on, and we just can’t let you leave Florida without it. We will drive you near Isleworth, the community where Tiger Woods lived during the time his wife snatched him up, beat him down with a golf club and took his playa card.
9. You have relatives who pronounce the word “coach” as “co-atch” and “roach” as “ro-atch.”
We all have one, or two or five. Someone in our family pronounces these words like this with little to no shame at all. Be aware, though. If you correct them, you will find yourself in a heated battle of how to pronounce more than “coach.” Be like the Beatles and just let it be.
10. You’re surrounded by beaches and pools but still know a gang of people who can’t swim.
Yes, we black Floridians dabble in the Atlantic Ocean quite a bit. But for some of us, if our feet can’t touch the sand at the bottom of the ocean, that’s a wrap. We won’t go far for fear of sharks, and if the water that’s surrounding us is too much for us to drink, we stop short. Don’t get me wrong; we’re getting better. The YMCA and community centers are helping our children learn how to swim, but rest assured, the fans at Black College Reunion didn’t have sand in their bathing suits.