“What? You think I’m Black.” I’ve heard this response more than I care to remember. What’s worse is that I’ve heard this from Black folks. You’re probably wondering what kinds of Black folks don’t know that they are Black. No I’m not talking about Clarence Thomas. Nor am I talking about fairer skinned Black people. In my two years of college I’ve met at least ten Black people who refuse to recognize the fact that they are Black. While, they do not deny their ethnicity, many say they feel pigeonholed by being labeled as Black. This past week, I approached a young lady of color in the dining hall who looked to be a pecan brown. I struck up a conversation with her about her courses and extra-curricular activities.
As we got ready to part ways I told her to come out to the Organization of Black Students general assembly meeting on Tuesday. Within 20 seconds, our great conversation went from cordial to “in the gutter”. Her eyes became a fiery red as she looked at me contemptuously, and said, “I’m Dominican, not Black”. My initial reaction was to say “so”, but I bit my tongue. She went on to explain further that she was tired of people calling her Black. She said this word with such disgust that it seemed as if the concept of Blackness made her nauseas. So like the great social researcher that I am, I began to inquire why being thought of as Black bothered her so much. In a somewhat hostile voice, she explained how she was raised to be Dominican and embrace that culture. I kindly explained that she is of the African Diaspora, but it did not change her opinion. In fact, her facial expressions made it appear as if my explanations were further infuriating her, so I dropped it.
But I’m not dropping this discussion. It’s true that race isn’t all about color; it’s a social construct that has been used as a means to stratify people. Hence, Black folks range from Tom Joyner yellow to Wesley Snipes Black. But also, we range in nationality. We are not monolithic. Sometimes people forget that the Atlantic Slave Trade dropped off Africans in South America, Central America, North America, and the Caribbean. In fact, the first slaves to arrive as a part of a labor force was on the island of Hispaniola (which is now Haiti and Dominican Republican) in 1502. About 65% of African slaves were shipped to Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti. Of course those raised in Latin America have different culture, traditions, and rituals; but that doesn’t make them less Black. When did language and cultural differences stop Europeans from being White? It hasn’t. I don’t expect someone from Haiti to denounce their Haitian heritage, but I do expect them to recognize their African roots. After all, my ancestors didn’t learn how to speak English because it was our first language, rather it was a language imposed on us. Similarly, Afro-Latinos learned Spanish from their colonizers.
I love all my people! We are as diverse as a crayola box. Let’s start recognizing and embracing our differences, but also telling the truth about who we are.