Cole Brown has lived his entire 24 years of life at the intersection of privilege and Blackness. The son of a Fortune 100 exec and the grandson of the first female senator in Ethiopia, he was born into the Jack and Jill, exclusive private school, summering in Martha’s Vineyard African American elite. That might be foreign to the people who live outside the inner circle of access but in Greyboy, his first book and the product of three-and-a-half years of writing and personal introspection, Brown hopes to describe another stratum of the Black experience.
“I remember the day I migrated to the Black table at school. It might seem trivial, but it was momentous in my life. I think that was the first time I was in a Black space where I could carve out some belonging,” he says of seeking acceptance among other Black students in the wealthy Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up. The term “greyboy” is in reference to an existence lived between two worlds: not Black enough to make his White friends uncomfortable with racial differences but craving the authenticity of a Black connection. Kenya Barris’ Black-ish was his first encounter with a story that was similar to his own, Brown said at a virtual happy hour with journalist and former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth, but he wanted to tell his story in his own way.
“I knew it was a legitimate Black experience and I didn’t see myself reflected in the media environment. Our Kind of People [by Lawrence Otis Graham] showed kind of a fantastical look at this bougie world of Black people and I think that’s kind of dishonest. I knew there had to be a place for this story,” Brown explained.
When he reached out to Welteroth for advice in writing Greyboy, she gave him a lot more than that; she agreed to write the foreword. “I think a lot of the themes that Cole addresses in his book are themes that I was seeking to explore in my book. He discusses them in painfully honest detail that really resonates with me, being treated as if you’re not Black enough or White enough,” said Welteroth, who grew up in an interracial household in an otherwise all-white California town and wrote her own book about the duality of her experience in More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say).
“Exploring Blackness through the lens of some measure of in-betweenness is nuanced and underexplored in our public discourse, at least,” Welteroth added. “It’s something that Black folks have talked about in the community at least, what it’s like to be Black in spaces where you are the “only” or you don’t fit into certain binary stereotypes. Both of us have grappled with the issue of belonging or acceptance within our community in different ways.”
Beyond telling the story of the token Black kid in the room, Brown said he’s been overwhelmed—in a good way—by the response from kids of all races and ethnicities who’ve reached out to share their stories of feeling in-between worlds in whatever way they experience it; from living in predominantly white areas as a person of color to being the adopted child of color in an all-white family. Greyboy’s accolades illuminate how well-connected Brown is with early praise for the book coming from a host of Black luminaries, including Queen Latifah, Anthony Anderson, and the late, great Andre Harrell.
“[Greyboy] is a lens into a world that few have written about—a world at the intersection of race and class that my children wake up in every day,” Sean “Diddy” Combs wrote in an endorsement for the book. “Brown presents an honest and sometimes uncomfortable view into the reality of growing up Black in white spaces. The Black experience in America is complex and Greyboy shines a light on the unique challenges that come with us achieving success.”
Big-ups from big names aside, Greyboy was a personally cathartic experience for the 24-year-old Georgetown grad, now a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group who splits his time between New York and Sydney, Australia.
“I wanted to write this book to work through experiences that I’m not sure I’ve processed,” Brown said of his debut essay collection. “That’s an ongoing process but my experience in a wealthy Black family isn’t as unique as the media would have you think it is.”