Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just Black...?

*****After having a good discussion, I asked my favorite, Milan, to write a guest blog post. I think she has an interesting perspective. Enjoy. Also laides if you want to know about the latest make and beauty products on the market hit up her blog. Click HERE to see it. *****

So I was actually pleased when my boy Tunde suggested I get on and write this post for his blog because it’s a topic I feel strongly about and have some ‘not so great’ experience with. It’s actually a follow-up to a post he wrote HERE that I thought was extremely thought provoking.

After reading Tunde’s post, it brought back a ton of memories I had of situations in the past (that were essentially the reverse of what he was talking about) where I was made to feel inadequate or “less than” because…well…I am ‘just’ black or ‘just’ African-American, if you will. Yes you read right, JUST black…as if being so was simply not good enough. I’ve heard some Africans and even Afro-Caribbean people say African-Americans are “lost, lazy and lack true heritage”. Instead of embracing African-Americans as an extension of who they are and the cultures they represent, many have chosen to shun us or write us off as “lost”. This is mind-boggling to me. And hurtful.

I identify myself as black or African-American. I tend to use the two interchangeably a lot although African-American speaks more to my culture whereas black can include people of various cultural backgrounds with a common tie to African ancestry. I was born here in the United States, so were my parents, so were their parents and several generations before them. Yet, I know I am a descendent of Africa. I know my roots and heritage can be traced directly back to that continent. I know my ancestors were taken from Africa, brought to America as slaves and that’s essentially where my family’s story in this country begins. I’ve had family members trace our ancestry back to the early/mid-1800s. I know my people were slaves in this country. I even know what states some of them lived, who may have owned them, how they married, what children they had, how they moved and migrated across this country, and how I came to be born and raised in California. These are things I know.

What I do not know is exactly what country in Africa my people came from. I do not know what village or tribe I am a descendant of. I do not know what region I am from. I do not have names of my African ancestors. I myself do not have an African surname. But my heart is there, I know it, I feel it and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to take that away from me or any other African-American in this country. I am proud of who I am, I am proud of the ancestors that struggled in THIS country for me to have the opportunities I have, I am proud of what African-Americans here represent. I am proud of my family and my name.

When I was in college, I had a Nigerian guy I liked tell me although he liked me too…his parents would never accept me because I was ‘just’ black. I think this was the first of many of these types of comments I would encounter throughout the years usually from well-meaning African friends of mine. At the time I didn’t even fully understand what that meant…’just’ black. But it did stick with me. I guess I was na├»ve and looked at us all in much the same way. Yes, I was aware of cultural differences, however, black was black to me. Whether you were Haitian, Nigerian, Belizean, African-American, Trinidadian, Jamaican-American, Eritrean, etc. It was the first time I started seeing the major division that WE create amongst ourselves. The various sects that had arisen, the “culture snobs” (as I tend to call them) that existed…those that shun anything and everything that is different from the specific African culture they were a part of. The “oh you can’t know ANYTHING about this over here because THIS is Naija”. Yeah, that attitude. I have more stories along these lines, but in the interest of not writing an epic novel (just a short book apparently LOL), I won’t share them all. But you get the idea. I’m all for cultural pride. I get that. I love seeing it. I think blacks are some of the most diverse and interesting people on this planet. But when that pride turns to elitism, that’s when I have a problem.

I think we have enough “outside forces” that try to divide and conquer black people and that try to make us feel inferior that it’s sad to me that we do it to ourselves as well. That internal rejection tends to hurt more than the rejection you receive when you expect it from “others”.

I used to feel bad when I would hear the “you’re JUST black”comments. Like I was lacking something that made me inadequate. Now that I’m older, I don’t feel bad…I’m extremely proud to be JUST black or African-American. Black people in the United States have had to endure incredible pain and suffering and have had to overcome numerous struggles to be able to live equally and fairly. We STILL struggle for that. But we have a fighting spirit that can’t be matched. We’re survivors. And not for nothing, I think that strength was born and fed in Africa and has been passed down from generation to generation and still exists to this day in this country and around the world. We are resilient.

I have always been interested in learning about various cultures, especially various African/Afro-Caribbean cultures. It’s fascinating to me. Not because I’m searching for something that I lack, but because I tend to discover an aspect of these cultures that has translated into African-American culture in some way. I think that’s pretty special and I would encourage other African people to do the same. Especially those that are hung-up on the idea that being ‘just black’ isn’t good enough. They may discover that what connects us if far greater than what separates us. They may also discover that when they look at us, they’ll see themselves more often than not.

Ethiopian, Nigerian, Ugandan, Eritrean, Belizean, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Bahamian….yeah, I think African-Americans are all of those mixed up and rolled into one. I think that’s pretty dope and I’m extremely proud to be JUST black.


Milan said...

I'll be the Thanks for giving me a platform, Favorite. I appreciate it. ;-)

Ms.Minx said...

Hey, Great post, hun!
I definitely have come across a lot of "culture snobs" too, who feel superior to African-Americans cuz of ignorant notions passed on to them by whoever, and I think its a damn shame.

I'm hoping we're growing out of it as a people though, cuz we're essentially just throwing away opportunities to build solid friendships/relationships with great people, and that's "just" dumb.

Reecie said...

great read, Milan! I am too, 'just black' and fortunately have never really made to feel any way about it. I grew up with mostly just black people and didn't really encounter other ethnic groups until college. everyone was really nice about it, with of course having some immense pride about their country. It wasn't until I saw a guy drool over a girl that was a light-skinned Jamaican and called her "exotic" that my side eye formed--but that's another discussion. LOL. I agree with Minx, its dumb to allow your snobbery to ruin opportunities to make great connections.


Great Post...

Funny, some people who seperate "us" don't realize that the majority only sees them as being "black" in most cases.

When a "black" person walks into a room, you don't hear someone say, oh they are Jamaican, or Nigerian, ... they are black first. Then once that person begins to talk to them, and get to know them, they find out the many layers that makes that person who they are.

I think

Milan said...

Thank you Ms. Minx, Reecie & DC Dating Diva...of course, I agree with you all.

LOL @ Reecie and "exotic"...yeah. Lame.

olivya23 said...

I've had this convo with friends before. Glad to read your perspective.

I am Nigerian-American. I am not one to separate myself, but it's most Black-Americans who separate themselves from their African ancestry. All through grade school and high-school, there were those ignorant kids who would speak without thinking, who were disrespectful because my name wasn't 'simple'. Because of this I tended not to befriend them. Not to say that all Black-Americans are like this, I'm just giving a different point of view.

There was a sense of 'I don't belong because my last name wasn't Smith, Johnson, Jackson, or Williams'. It made me seem like I was an outsider, when I was in the exact same classes, played the exact same sports, and spoke the same language.

I found myself, trying to fit in instead of stand out. It wasn't until I went to college that the notion of having a background other than American was accepted.

Milan said...

olivya-thanks for reading! I appreciate your perspective as well and I know there's ignorance on both sides of the coin. (Did you read Tunde's initial post on the subject? Click the link in my post...). The bottom line is that it's unnecessary and needs to stop. ;-)

Tunde said...

i would agree with you milan on this front as well. there are plenty of africans or afro-caribbeans that look down their nose towards black americans. their reasons vary. i have noticed that the people who feel this way are from our parent's generation and older.

i remember growing up listening to how my parents and uncles didn't want me or my brothers associating with children outside our culture. i personally thought it was insane. like i live in america so how could i not interact with americans? o_0 one word that really got under my skin that my parents/uncles/aunts used was "akata". it's a word for black americans and it doesn't have a positive connotation.

in high school my mother told me that if i didn't marry an african that she would disown me. i took the opposite approach that milan's friend did. i basically shrugged her off. if she would be willing to disown me for choosing someone that i wanted to spend the rest of my life with then that was on her. i know for a fact that she doesn't feel that way now. my younger brother's baby mother is from philly. my mother loves my her and my niece to death.

i agree that all this dissention and seperation needs to end. the world doesn't automatically seperate us so why would we seperate ourselves?

DJ GQ/ Martian Man Hunter said...

I respect this post a lot. I grew up with Caribbean parents and they raised me with a disdain to other Blacks. They always had beef with African Americans and Africans in general. They really didn't have kind things to say, and I grew up thinking I'm not a part of that culture. It's not till I got older and interacted with others that I took down the barriers that were built in me. I agree totally that for us to move forward the divisions must go. A house divided will fall

Milan said...

Tunde-yup. well put. ;-)

Anonymous said...

In America, greater emphasis is always placed on race rather than culture because its easier to group people. Out of all the different immigrant groups that have come to this country since the beginning of its creation, it would be impossible to learn everything there is to know about every culture here. We have people/descendants from every nation on the planet.

I wish more people would realize
a)there's a difference between someone being ignorant of YOUR culture vs. being just plain ignorant.
b)when African-Americans do run into "culture snobs" it doesn't exactly make us think "Wow. I would sure like to learn more about their culture and how they became such a loving people!"
c)Don't treat me like I'm stupid just because I don't know about your culture; unless you can tell me about Czech culture, can't I also say you're just as ignorant about the world?

Daydreamer said...

I’ve cut out 2/3 of what I wanted to say. Lol. This topic can go on for days. Great job……..

I was fortunate enough to always have Caribbean or (native) African friends growing up. My exposure to African diaspora cultures intrigued me from a young child. Needless to say my tolerance for ignorance is VERY low. I've never had a friend overtly disrespect my 'American-ness' or vice versa. My interest in black int'l culture changed my perspective on who I was as a black American. In a sense I embraced other cultures more because I felt being 'just' American was not exciting. (Though, I was always very pro black and recognized the struggle. Southern parents will do that for you!)

The most common comment from all my international black friends is that WE, as in ALL Americans, are lazy. Understanding that education is a preeminent factor in international cultures, based on what they (or their) families see, Americans are lazy in comparison. Hell, I agree! Pick up a book. Read. :-) I've also been told that Africans don't endear us as 'Africans' because we aren't pure. I mean, can you blame them? We technically aren't anymore. We have roots there undoubtedly African but culturally we are American- blacks in America.

We (sort of) have our own culture and have made do with what we were given- as you stated. As I've gotten older I have begun to embrace my American-ness and have been prouder to share my history. Black American history is rich and though not filled with indigenous aspects, it is worth sharing. Black Americans are just another thread in the huge cloth of the Diaspora around the world.

And yes, I always look for the black people when I travel internationally! Sharing stories is amazing! :-)

The Reason said...

Very well written! I will never understand why the things that should bring us together tear us apart.