Black Faces, [insert Other Race here] Masks
Contrary to popular belief, there are these living concepts called internalized oppression and internalized racism. Better known, in this instance, as not wanting to Black or of African ancestry.
There are many reasons for this:
People really are multiracial and they know it for certain, with proof/documentation/photographs/family oral tradition/physical features, etc. to support their claims.
But many of us, unfortunately, have no clue. So once we are
- socially conditioned to think Black and African peoples are the lowest, most uncivilized race on the face of the planet
- hard-knocked and brutalized with systemic injustice for not being white,
- indoctrinated and brainwashed by the American “melting pot theory”,
- taught and shown that many Africans do not claim or want us either,
- bedazzled by Black celebrities and political figures who aid white supremacy,
- socially acclimated to claiming/imitating “blackness” only when it’s cool to someone else and it might get you something, usually status, money, or some material object
- and boxed into believing that Black = ugly, nappy-headed, muddy earth creature,
- anything we claim as our culture is wrong by default,
then the only logical conclusion many Black folks come to is a) being Black is the problem, not society, and b) that being Black is a horrible burden so I’ll see if I can claim something else, something cleaner, more acceptable, more exotic and revered.
They learn to defend themselves against their own Blackness by justifying it with multiraciality and multiculturalism fostered by internalized oppression and racism.
Ms. Queenly’s Testament:
I am from the Deep South, yes, the place of northern nightmare, Atlanta, Georgia. I was there and I lived there until this year, or until I went out into the “real” white world (away from the predominantly Black communities where I had lived) when I went to a predominantly white liberal private university.
My mother taught me that being of African descent is something to be deny if not be ashamed of because Africans are “dirty, old conniving folks”. She insists, even to this day, that she is Black though most of her racial makeup is that of “dark-skinned”
[American?] Indians, mixed white Eurpean-descended folks, and even Mexican on my great grandfather’s side. We are “part Cherokee”, says the mama. There’s just a “little”, a smidgen of African, says mama, because “I ain’t descended from no Africans”.
I was praised by members of my family for being pretty and having somewhat longer hair and being lighter than my siblings but fat (so basically ugly), particularly by my grandmaw and mama.
Personally, I would never claim being white, even if I knew it to be true. I have never met any white relatives. Ever. I don’t mind being Mexican or Native, however, I have never been interested in investigating even if the information is there because a) its not readily available, and b) I have known Mexican@ folks to hate Black peoples and I know for sure that the Cherokee Nation has some shit they need deal with, what with expelling the Black folks that their ancestors enslaved (and raped) on a whim, and all that.
Both of my parents are Black. I identify as Black, as opposed to African American, because I view myself as someone who is several generations removed from any direct African ancestry. (Still, I do not view myself as any less connected to my Black/African ancestors who communicate with me spiritually.) I have lived in Black communities all my life, I was locked up in APS (Atlanta Public Schools), which is 96% Black, last time I checked. I have lived in working class and poor communities my entire life and and have been in and out of virtual poverty. And I have never witnessed more ignorance, pride, and hatred for Blackness and African people of the Diaspora than in the Black people I have lived in community with.
“Multiculti(s)” (multicultees): Multiraciality and Multiculturalism as a Fad
I coined my own term when I was in college dealing with the office of multicultural affairs at the university. For those championing multiculturalism and justice-free diversity: the multi-culti.
They are a cult of individuals tied together by a single purpose: creating environments that thrive on erasing racial and ethnic difference under the high-flying banner of justice-free diversity.
Black people running around claiming bi/multiraciality and multicultural heritage, whether it’s true or not, as a means to “lighten” their Blackness or African ancestry is nothing new. But when a half white, half African man became president of the United States, whoa did it blow out of control. “Looking Black” and actually being or claiming bi/multiraciality has become a fad. Because some Black people don’t view “just Black” as good enough. The words “mixed” and “ambiguous” have become even more popular.
In some Black communities, in my experience, “multiracial superiority” is a step under white supremacy.
Suddenly, it’s officially okay to “be Black”, as long as you’re mixed.
Appropriation of African and First Nations/Native Culture and Identity
Appropriating Native culture by Black folks, particularly in the U.S. doesn’t always look the same as it does for white hipsters dressed in feather headdresses swinging plastic tomahawks, and calling on their “spirit animals”.
It’s a little less flashy than all that and I’ve already mentioned it. Its something you have to live around to be able to see and comprehend. Its as simple as claiming to be Native, whether its true or not, without bothering to even learn anything about the group you’re claiming. It is as simple as saying you’re Native because you’re ashamed of being Black/of African descent, or hate yourself.
Appropriation, or more relevantly, fetishizing of African culture is a lot more visible. It’s in everything from music videos to movies to styles of dress to the way we talk about our relationships to one another (like using phrases such as ‘my Nubian queen’ and talking about the motherland without knowing anything about the motherland and being interested in making connections with its people). Coming to America staring Eddie Murphy comes to mind (that sexist shit but I will admit to letting my soul glow… (any who has seen the movie will get it)).
When I was a child, my teachers made an effort to teach Black Southern children about different African cultures and how we are connected to them. As I got older, no one did that anymore. They just taught us how to pass standardized tests, white history, white literature, white political figures, and how to fit into a white world.
The Privilege of Knowing
If you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are Black Native or African, particularly with passed-down truths from the family or documentation and other forms of “white-approved” proof, then good for you. Congratulations, you are officially “not just Black”.
But a lot of us don’t have that kind of proof nor do we desire it.
Otherwise, I think we’re alienating, pissing off, homogenizing, and appropriating the identities, cultures, and heritages of people who are of Africa or from Africa and people who are Indigenous/Native, who are struggling to have their voices heard.
- White people and indigenous folks who say there are no Black Indians
- People, like myself, who may be Black Indian but may have no way of knowing and therefore trying to trample on Indigenous/First Nations identies
- Black people who claim to be Indigenous because they are ashamed of being Black
- Black people who ignorantly fetishize Africa and peoples
- Out and out cultural appropriators and racists
The whole situation is beyond frustrating and at this point in time, I don’t even know how to sort the whole thing out or even if I should be trying to.