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Contemplations on Race, African Immigration, The African Holocaust, and Interracial Relationships - Bad Poetry, Ranting, and Geekiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Jake The Snake

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Contemplations on Race, African Immigration, The African Holocaust, and Interracial Relationships [Oct. 6th, 2010|02:57 pm]
Jake The Snake
For those who have followed this blog since its inception (no, not the movie!), this used to be my mental space for my own explorations of race, culture, and white privilege. In light of some recent discussions, I think that it is time to dust it off again.

My fiance, Helene, is about to finish her bachelors and is taking an elective course on race and feminism (yay!). Helene's family is from Cote D'Ivoire / Ivory Coast in West Africa.  She came here when she was 18 months old, so her personal nuances are far more Americanized than her parents and older brother (her brother is 10 years her senior). The opening class excersize required the students to describe a time that they had been stereotyped, or had themselves stereotyped someone else.
Her response mostly revolved around our relationship - obviously an interracial one.  Her and I have been together for 2 years.  It isn't like I "forget" that we have differences in rearing and appearances, or that I am lucky to avoid the stereotypes in my personal and professional life; but after two years of looking at her every day, I pretty much just look at Helene as Helene...the fashionista, businesswoman, student, chef, and queen of the biting one-ups-man-ship that is so awesome to be around...unfortunately, the rest of the world is a different story.  I don't want to turn this into a post about "woe is me in my interracial relationship" but an understanding of this reality is necessary to contextualize my broader point.

Helene and I live in Harlem, not far from the Apollo.  While I have heard a few comments from white acquaintences about dating a brown-person, most of the negativity that her and I have encountered has come from other black people.  She has received comments asking if she thinks she's "better than everybody," "don't like black men," "is a traitor," that "no black man would want her anyway," and "is trying to be white."  I have heard comments directed at me, like "she just needs a real man to f**k her," "stop raping our women," "go get another hoe" and "you must be a down-low f@&&0t".  These are the overt things, besides the random looks and dudes who try to grope her right in front of me to provoke a reaction...and people wonder why so many cats in Harlem take martial arts!

We both understand that these are the few ignorant, unhappy (and usually a little bit crazy) people whose own self-centeredness prevents them from just letting two people be happy.  We try our best to, as Helene says, "Keep it moving."  But trying to summarize these occurances drew up other questions, that relate more to the reason for my post:

Helene was referring to the diverse array of African discendants in Harlem (and America in general) in trying to comment on our encounters.  She asked me my opinion on the proper linguistic terminology to define various African people's ancestry, based on my African-American studies background from college.  I could only explain what my understanding was, based on my readings of books and conversations with friends.  I emphasized that it was up to her to figure out how each term sat with her and then choose accordingly.  I will summarize my comments below:

African - a person born in an African country, who may have immigrated to another country.  A person of African ancestry who can trace their family to a specific people or location in Africa.  This is typically how Helene views herself.

African-American - a person of African ancestry, born in America - see "black" below.  Also used by African Immigrants in reference to themselves as Americanized Africans, or as the broader Diasporic community in America.  Helene did not identify with this title, because she was not born in America.  I have also heard "black" people state that they did not identify with this title, because they were not born in Africa and can only identify with their American heratage, due to the effect of the African Holocaust (also called the slave trade) on them and their ancestors.

Black - an African-American person who can be of the "second-generation" (or later) idea above.  Helene does identify with this, largely because this term is also how all people of African discent in America are lumped together.   Black is also commonly used to refer to discendants of the victims of the African Holocaust, whose ancestry is less likely to be traced to a specific people in Africa.  This is because people's cultural history was erraticated by European oppressors in order to maintain social control on oppressed African laborers and their children. 

Brown - sometimes a response to the negative connotations of "black" above.  Helene mentioned that other places on the Earth outside of Africa are also brown, so this is inaccurate to her.

Person of Color - another, more respectful attempt to quantify the "African" cultural element.  Helene mentioned that all people on the Earth have a color, so that this also does not sit well with her.

As you can see, it is difficult to find one universally accurate, unilaterally accepted term for the various manifestations of the African Diaspora...and I didn't even get into the other complexities, such as Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Cubans, Franco-Caribbean and White Africans.  I also realize that there is going to be at least one person on my LJ alone that finds an issue with the above definitions...

And therein is the point of this post: we must remember that race is an idea that has no basis in science and was invented for social control and economic exploitation.  Neely Fuller, a black cultural scholar, explained that words are tools.  Tools serve to empower those who possess and invent them.  In this case, words like Black, African-American, etc are trying to define a concept that cannot be defined in any logical sense, because race is an illogical, false concept.  

I am not hating on anyone who has pride in their ancestry.  I am stating that attempts by oppressed people to define themselves within the racial system are almost an excersise in futility.  The system of race is designed to cause division amongst oppressed people, to make it easier to exploit them and their children.  According to Fuller, there are only two kinds of people under the system of White Supremacy / Race: White and Non-White.  By this logic, Africans attempting to define themselves accurately under the racial system is impossible, because fundamentally, they are still "non-white."

Consider, the fact that the U.S. Census still has a race question on its surveying.  Every 10 years, the census comes up with more and more check-boxes to place people in, in the futile attempt to provide legitamecy to an illogical, illegitament, unscientific method of classifying humans.  For instance, African discendants from the Dominican Republic can be classified as African, because that is where their ancestors came from.  However, the population of DR was conquored by Spain, so the island is Spanish-speaking, if not also genetically intermixed with the "Latino" race - as well as the Native islanders that were there before the invasion of Europeans.  Also consider Jamaicans, who, in addition to their own native populations, have also seen people intermix from India, Southeastern Asia and Africa.  Yet, we would likely classify Jamaican in this country as African-discendant, black, or at least "Caribbean."  With these two examples alone, we can quickly see the quagmire that is forming...

I am not trying to spit the "color-blind" notion that we need to ignore our sociocultural histories or not acknowledge and respect cultural differences.  Cultural differences are beautiful and provide for a multitude of perspectives that enrich everyone.  But these differences have no baring on our value as human beings and cannot simply be lumped together under racial definitions.  The fact is, we've been trying for hundreds of years to come up with an accurate, working definition of race.  Racial "definitions" have evolved over time to further convolude and divide communities, in response to different groups frustrating the white supremacist hegemony.  We'd never stop to wonder why, with the supposed cultural differences between China and India, for example, both are still considered "Asian..." of course, the most recent Census tried to create a distinction between the two...

I hope that my broader point about the white supremacist system hasn't offended anyone.  My purpose here was to make people think.  Please feel free to comment with your own perspective on the situation, or respond to anything else that I have said.

Peace. Respect. Love.


[User Picture]From: dyvinesweetness
2010-10-06 10:08 pm (UTC)
So I'm curious, does Helene identify as African? Was this born from her desire to find the right term for herself or for others or... something else?

I guess at the end of the day I think labels are as important as we make them. So if none fit properly for her, then... well they don't fit properly. That's all it means to me. I ID as Black (or African American, but I like Black better and I'll explain why in a minute) because the cultural ties I have to Blackness are important to me and are things I want to pass on to my children. I'm fine with it being equated to non-white as I know I'm not white and I recognize that there are shared experiences that other non-white people would have in common with me (while also recognizing that those experiences may not be identical, but likely similar).

I prefer Black to Af-Amer because Black both speaks to culture and ethnicity. I disagree that it would be just Af-Amer people. I know of people from Europe who consider themselves Black as well.

I respect anyone's self-labeling. I mean, what other choice do I have? lol But I must also admit when people that are very clearly phenotypically black use the same logic you described to not ID as Black I roll my eyes. Not that that matters, but it is my response.
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[User Picture]From: bombyamom
2010-10-07 03:30 am (UTC)
I like what you said about respecting everyone's self-labeling...especially because everyone's experience is different. I was hoping that you would comment, too, since obviously I am culturally removed from the implications of the labeling decision.
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[User Picture]From: triplee
2010-10-11 05:53 pm (UTC)
I hear you on the various problems on all sides when dealing with an interracial relationship. When dating someone of mixed race that self-identified as mostly "black" (you know who I'm referring to), we got our fair share of crap, often more from her peers than mine. It's surreal having to put up with degrading comments and having guys hit on a girl right in front of you, assuming I'm some sort of sugar daddy. What you're seeing Harlem happened just as readily in G'burg. Granted, it wasn't the only crap we got, it's just that the "white" side of things tended to be more subtle, and frankly, built into society a bit more.

Personally, when it comes to these issues, I'm with Chris Rock on the matter: "We should just keep fucking until we're all the same color".

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