Monday, August 16, 2010

Race and Hair Semantics

After participating in a "discussion", if you will, on a hair forum I like to frequent, it had me thinking.

To give a slight recap of a 39 page train-wreck, it started out with someone asking why must they be anything other than Black, just because their hair is a certain texture/curl pattern. It was innocent enough, and brought about discussions of race in the U.S. Some of the comments were enlightening. And then there were......other comments.

Not to give light to disagreements or any more attention to certain individuals, but the person I'm referencing believed that anyone who doesn't call themselves African was denying their African heritage. And we're viewed as African and that's what it is and anything contrary speaks of hatred of self and that you're trying to distance yourself from your roots.

*takes deep breath*

Obviously I disagree. Labels are just that, and I think you can't judge or measure a person's motivations by JUST a label. Racial and ethnic classifiers are not the same. I typically call myself Black, which by default, acknowledges that I am primarily of African descent. There is no question or argument there, nor have I EVER tried to deny or distance myself from this fact. You can look at me and see that my roots are more African than European or anything else. But to tell people they are African when ethnically and technically, they are not, can be problematic. Imposing your views as TRUTH is problematic. Having an almost superiority complex because you think you're at some level of acceptance that others just haven't reached is problematic.

My viewpoint:

  • I am an American of African descent. I just say Black, which is inclusive of the fact that I have African blood in me. Calling myself African American and Black, both are technically incorrect, but we live in a country where labels "define" us. Race as a social construct has done nothing but divide us. *sigh*
  • I am NOT African, as it is an ethnicity and technically, I am American as my family has been in this country for more than 6 generations. Culturally, I am what America is: a conglomerate of many cultures of the many people who live here.
  • By not calling myself African DOES NOT mean I'm denying my African lineage. Far from it. And any assumptions of denial are just flat out WRONG. Plain and simple.
  • Being African isn't just being of African descent. I respect my African brothers and sisters far too much to claim an ethnicity I'm ignorant of. Meaning, I know of Africa but I don't not know of Africa in the way those who are African-BORN know of the continent. Me acknowledging that doesn't equal self-hatred. It speaks to someone who thinks BELOW the surface.
If I was a Dominican of African descent, I'm STILL Dominican as ethnically and culturally, that's how I was raised. I would NOT JUST BE AFRICAN. That would be denying the customs and traditions I was reared on. Regardless of how my ancestors got there, I am what I am. Why would I deny what has been my life? Why would I deny my family just because YOU want me too? This is just me giving an example, as I'm not Dominican but know of many who are of African descent and are PROUD to be both Dominican and of African descent.

I don't know what it is about race discussions in this country, whether it involves the majority and the minority or any other combination in between that brings out such ugliness, but if I've learned ANYTHING from that discussion is that we still have much to work on as people, collectively and individually.

We don't have to agree with each other, but we should be able to have meaningful and MATURE dialog that helps contribute to overall enlightenment. NOT divisiveness. If you're not open-minded to anything that differs from your opinion, it's best to not engage because you won't change anyone's mind and they won't change yours. You're not about learning. You're about imposing your beliefs as truth. Funny how many of the issues in this country's past(and subsequent present) started out with imposing forced beliefs on denigrated individuals.

Food for thought.

What do you all think?


Rhoyale said...

Just for the record, I want to say first that I love your blog. You are very insightful and entertaining which is a rare combination.
But it seems like you've devoted a lot of commentary to stating why you're not African which is a act that is very confusing and insulting to many other blacks. Compared to a white counterpart, no white person in America would go to this extent to offer explanation as to why he or she was American and not European. I understand that race is a social construction but our particular socialization presents a curiosity that asks what type of people we may share similar life experiences with. In this case I believe the most practical and accurate label (I hate to use labels too but they do exist) is African American. Although you may not be African, per se, I don't think simply "American" would be a complete and accurate description either. Most PPL of African descent all over the world share similar life experiences as it pertains to physical characteristics, racism, and the social subordination of those with darker skin so I don't understand why there's anything wrong calling a black person, regardless of what nation they reside in, African. In fact, I think that particular characteristic unifies us in a way that colonization has unified europeans. So, call me African anyday; these are the people who share my struggle, my outlook, and they look like me. Just my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I wish more people thought like this. seriously I feel allot of people claim an ethnicity that they are ignorant of, I from Trinidad and I feel I'd be disrespecting my Nigerian/ Sudanese friends if I tried to say I'm African... (what can I possibly tell them about their home??? NOTHING that's what.) and I will never front like I can. First off how can u even claim a continent? that alone shows ignorance. Instead I acknowledge that way back when my people came from there and I appreciate that for what it is,( u know we are all one people) but other than that I'm just a trini

beautifulms said...

If you call me African, I won't take offense by it because there is nothing wrong with being African and I am a African descendant. But at the same time I'm Caribbean and I'm pretty proud of that too because that's part of my history/culture, I don't want that to be ignored.

I don't like this whole division that we have in thing we have going on in the black community, seperation because I'm Bajan, he's Jamaican, she's from Sierra Leone and you are African American. Why should it matter?

And just because I do not introduce myself as a African doesn't mean I am someway denying my African heritage. How could I introduce myself as African Caribbean and deny my African roots? I know some people do but I think that straight stupid.

KP said...

@Rhoyale...I appreciate your comments. I actually don't take offense to being called African. I've been pegged as Ethiopian more times than I remember, and it doesn't bother me. I've often considered it a compliment because I know of many men/women of Ethiopian descent, and they've been nothing buy wonderful to me.

I just have an issue with a stranger telling me what I can and can't call myself, and why it's wrong for me to identify as I choose. And then to assume there's some type of hatred involved. There is none. I love being a woman of African descent. Just don't make assumptions about me and my motivations having not had one conversation with me in real life. Not you, but generally speaking. :)

KP said...

@Anonymous & @beautifulm....Thank you. That's pretty much how I feel. I'm ignorant of a certain history of my family, and I'd never want to disrespect my African sisters and brothers by carrying myself in a way that's dishonest. One day, I hope to be able to trace my family's journey here, if I should be so fortunate.

I still have an immense pride of who I am. I just want people to realize that there should be no mistaking my respect for knowledge and acknowledgment for self-hatred.

ChocolateOrchid said...

Great post! I totally feel you on this. I'm over the social constructs here, but when asked I also respond with "I'm black". It just makes sense to me seeing as I, my grandparents, great-grandparents and such were born here.
It's unfortunate that people are pushy with their opinions.

asimplething said...

I'm African.

And I like your reasoning behind this post.

That is all :)

KP said...


Thank you so much for understanding! It means a lot. :)

Suburbanbushbabe said...

Africa is not a country, it's a continent. Most people from that continent identify by their nation - Ghanian, Nigerian, Somali, Algerian, Moroccan, Ugandan, etc. So I think the term African American is simplistic in the extreme, and also creates a second-tier of American. Also, since my family is from Jamaica I have no direct roots to any African country that I know about. But I don't call myself Jamaican American. I'm old enough to remember having arguments with my parents about calling myself Black. That's what I am, what I've been since age 15 and I'm sticking to it. But sometimes just for fun, I'll put "other" in those optional forms.