Baddest bitch in the states. Half Spanish, Half Trinidad. Complexion Henny Straight.
– Fabolous in Lloyd Bank’s “Start it Up”
This Thanksgiving, I had to tell my mother that I’m Black. You see, we’re Dominican, so Black has a specific meaning to us (and other Latin Americans). We’re inherently racist and never fail to point out skin color in the next person as if our islands weren’t where the most mixing of persons (rather, breeding of slaves) took place. “You’re not Black,” she said to me, making me realize where I had gotten my argument from. I used to fight against it. Saying “I’m not Black, I’m A, B & C.” Pointing out everything but Black –because Spanish people don’t think they are. My question is, if you didn’t check the box for Black, did you check it for White? I mean, there was no “Medium” box. What exactly do you think you are? I know the answer to that: Whatever island/country their from, that’s what they’ll claim. Black people don’t have that luxury (seeing how they have no idea where they’re really from).
Still, I’m not retracting my entire statement. I’m not just Black. Part of the reason I argued against the label was because calling me “Black” seemed to wipe out any trace of what else I am. I’m Dominican. I’m Cuban. I’m Chinese, even. A plethora of different cultures that have added to and defined who I am ad an individual. None more important than the other. While my racial identity is considered “Black” my cultural identity is more Dominican than anything else. I was raised by my Dominican mother, who was raised by her father –born of the marriage of her island grandmother (St. Lucia, St. Vincent… one of the St.’s lol) to her Chinese grandfather. With that said, in my house, we don’t eat chitlins or greens and my mac-n-cheese comes in a blue box.We eat pernil and moro de guandules. Rice & beans & meat, ya’ll . I eat rice, beans and meat.
But my skin color is all people jude me on. It’s the first thing they see. The thing many can’t get passed. Most times, people don’t ask “what” I am and say “I thought you was… like… just Black, yo.” Honestly, before my senior year in college, I’d have said “I’m not Black at all.” I love my “mix” as people call it. And it’s gotten me a good amount of “Yo, that’s sexy”‘s in my day. While it’s something that makes me different from those who are just Black, I am no different. 400 years ago, I’d have been right on that field with the rest of you. Imagine me saying “Hey, but I’m not really Black.” Riiiight. & Before 1964, I’d have been right behind you in line at the “Coloured’s Only” drinking fountain (or “bubbler” for my Rhode Islanders lol).
My distaste for being called “Black” was rooted in the race’s inevitable connection to attributes like lazy, ignorant and uneducated. And part of me just didn’t want to be that. (Im reading a book called “No Matter How Much You Promise Cook or Pay the Rent you Blew it Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again” by Edgardo Vega Yunque, where the Puerto Rican character, Elsa, feels the same way. Good frickin book btw & awesome title right??!?!) But in saying this is to agree with these stereotypes. For me to say that I didn’t want to be Black because I didn’t want to be associated with those things was partially from my agreement with the stereotypes. Now, let’s be honest here, a majority of Black people are uneducated. Many are lazy. And a large group of them (especially the young ones on public transportation) are ignorant. But this can’t be attributed to the “race”. It’s not genetic. It’s circumstantial. I noticed this most when I went to college in Baltimore. I saw Black families. Black professionals. In Rhode Island, I never met any. I never had a Black teacher or doctor or anything. And, yes, there are Black people there. Lots of them. They just ain’t doin shit because they have no idea that they can. And so that was the initial idea I had of Black people. You only know what you see. That’s how stereotypes form in the first place; from an unrepresentative sample.
Additionally, I loathe the “we’re all African” argument. Overtime, with continental drift breaking up Pangea, our continents formed and somehow, someone decided that every piece of land broke off of the original Africa. How about, everything broke off of each other? I mean… it’s already been proven with Newton’s Third Law of Motion that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For everyone to “break off” of Africa, Africa would have had to been at a standstill the entire time. It wasn’t and it isn’t. Continental drift. Plate Tectonics. Why do we all have to be African? How about we’re all human?
When I was younger, I tried very hard to maintain my “Blackness”. I went to a pretty-much, all-white school but made no friends there. Not many at least. This is when “talking” or “acting” black or white was a huge issue. When many people were trying to find out who, ethnically, they were. I held onto my hood with fervor. I did so until I got pretty far through college and started to realize that the manner I was speaking deterred me from progress rather than helped me. Not to mention, I love writing. I’m in love with language. I couldn’t bare to sully it with “Yo” and “deadass” after every statement.
In the afterward of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, she speaks of trying to become a legitimate, credible, good, writer, but maintain this same “Blackness”:
“My choices of language (speakerly, aural, colloquial), my reliance for full comprehension on codes embedded in black culture, my effort to effect immediate co-conspircy and intimacy (without any distancing, explanatory fabric), as well as my attempt to shape a silence while breaking it are attempts to transfigure the complexity and wealth of Black American culture in a language worthy of the culture…Hearing “civilized” languages debase humans, watching cultural exorcisms debase literature, seeing oneself presented in the amber of disqualifying metaphors –I can say that my narrative project is as difficult today as it was thirty years ago. (Morrison, p 216)”
It takes 50 or so slow reads to really understand exactly what Morrision is saying. And then another 50 to feel it. But here’s my understanding (for now):
There is beauty in the Black culture. Granted, there are somethings that aren’t as pretty as we’d like them to be. You can’t cover those up and pretend they don’t exist, but you also don’t have to fall victim. Just because the Black culture is infused with yo’s and nigga’s, doesn’t mean you have to speak like that all the time. But there comes a time when yo or nigga is the only term that fits. You need them. You can’t get rid of them. You have to take the bad and understand the good that has come of it. Like how my “bad” hair is the perfect fro. I’ve come to understand that I can’t separate myself from people who look like me because society throws us into the same bucket anyway. They look at us the same way. And we look at ourselves the same way — all of us with the same hesitant eyes.
So I am Black, for that is indeed the color of my skin, but I prefer the term “Complexion Henny Straight”: My skin tone is something I am immeasurable proud of. But I am a whole person, not to be defined by any single word society has the gaul to dream up. So instead of asking me “What’s your race?” why dont you ask me “What color is your skin?” That’s what you mean anyways. Then there would be no confusion in my answer. I wouldn’t have to think. Maybe the US government could provide a color wheel (the cosmetics industry can help with this) where you have to pick the tone that closest matches your color. I think this would be more effective method of defining/describing a person. More legitimate, in my eyes. At least it’d be true and easy to confirm. Or better yet, call me an American. I mean, I was born here. My passport is bluer than Suzy’s blue eyes. So that’s what I want to be called. With no hyphenation. That’s what I’m really fighting for.
Matta fact if you ain’t callin me “American”, don’t call me nuffin, Yo.
Other than that, call me by my name. For now, Ella will do 😉