I’ve been black, and proud to be black, my whole life. My parents raised me like that. They grew up as ‘Negroes.’ They had to drink at water fountains labeled ‘colored.’ They lived long enough to become Afro-Americans, and then African Americans.
I was, and still am, militantly black. I’ve lived through the “Ungawa Black Power” of Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown; the clenched, raised fists of the Panthers and Young Lords; and through this decade’s Black Lives Matter and #VoteLikeBlackWomen movements. My mom, who was never seen without her hair hot-comb pressed straight as a board, even accepted my Afro hairdo.
Though I was raised by a socialist dad and I was a member of revolutionary nationalist socialist movements as a young person, I do not want to hear anyone spouting that it is more important to address class issues before we deal with racism and white supremacy. The two are inextricably intertwined in this country founded on African enslavement. All the money and economic equality in the world won’t wipe away our blackness and potential death by a white-aimed bullet. Racial issues steeped in malevolent anti-blackness do not deserve “back of the bus” status.
Black socialist W.E.B. Du Bois left this country to move to Africa and died in 1963 in Accra, Ghana. Though he continued to embrace socialism along with revolutionary Pan-Africanism, his was the harshest and earliest critique of socialists’ inability to deal with race and racism. Read his 1913 essay “Socialism and the Negro Problem,” if you have not already done so.
My militant blackness does not preclude me from being a radical feminist—a black radical feminist. Not-black women have to address their racism before I dub them radical (or that word I don’t like … the one that starts with “prog-”).
My blackness does not prevent me from working in coalition with not-blacks. Or writing for this not-black website. Some of my best friends are not-blacks. 😉
So back to what’s bugging me.
I am not a “non-white.” The MacMillan Dictionary defines “non-white” as follows:
[...] used for describing people who are not considered to be members of the race of people who have pale skins. This word is usually considered offensive because it suggests that the white section of the population of the world is more important than any other.
I agree. “Non-white” centers whiteness, and makes it the norm, leaving all the rest of us who are “othered” on the outside.
(Note: Before folks leap into my comments section to insist that “there is no such thing as race,” let me assure you that as a cultural anthropologist, I am well-aware of, and have written about the social construction of race and the history of scientific racism. There is no black or white “race,” However, the construct of race holds up in practice, no matter the bogus science. The myth of race never stopped the reality of lynchings and massacres, and my “black” folks wound up facing white supremacy in spades, day in and day out, for centuries.)
Daily encounters with the “non-white” thing makes me grit my teeth and growl. I’m sick and tired of seeing this term thrown around by pollsters, demographers, pundits, and in everyday discourse from my not-black friends. Google the “non-white vote.” Pundits and political prestidigitators have been parsing this demographic in a frenzy of flogging the artificial category to a fare-thee-well.
I am a black female of a certain age, so why drop me into a voting grab bag with a similarly-aged Vietnamese immigrant in Louisiana, a Native American on a rez in South Dakota, or a Miami Cuban? Why in the hell do you not-blacks decide to define me, and put me in a damn box based on the centering of whiteness?
You often respond, “because whiteness is the norm here.” Well, guess what? Globally, it ain’t.
Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the “person of color” or “woman of color” abbreviation grab bag either—though yes, I’ve used it. I feel stuck with it.
“People of color” tosses me into the same bag with Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, and more. Those categories, of course, are also racial constructs that don’t make a lot of sense, but the term is supposed to unite us because of our shared oppression. I don’t want to be defined by a negative.
My lament is rooted in my qualitative reality versus quantitative variables, as well as the obsessive need to fit folks into neatly demarcated boxes.
Black is my culture; black is my “racial identity” here in the United States, even with all its negative baggage; and, much more importantly (to me), black is beauty.
My religion is black.
Shango is an Orisha, a divine entity whose attributes invoke thunder, the drums and dance. In Yorubaland, now Nigeria, Sàngó was an historic King of the Oyo empire, became a revered ancestor, and later part of the divine. When slaves were brought to the New World in massive numbers, they brought their belief systems with them. Over the centuries since the end of the slave trade, those beliefs have not only survived, but have flourished, often hidden behind a mask of Catholicism or practiced in conjunction with other faiths. Even harsh persecution has failed to extinguish the reverence for Orisha. There are now more Orisha practitioners in the New World than there are in Yorubaland, and if we add to those numbers those who practice related or syncretic systems of Vodoun, espiritismo and Umbanda the figures could be as high as 50 million here in the West. Exact numbers are difficult to tally, since due to persecution many respondents to surveys simply state they are Catholic.
My goddess is black.
For adherents of Candomblé and Umbanda, the beach and the ocean are not simply water and sand, but are a symbolic representations of the African deity (Orixá), Iemanjá—or Yemoja (Yoruba) or Yemaya (Cuba and the U.S.).
In Brazil she is also referred to as Rainha do Mar (Queen of the Sea).
Many world religions honor the female as the divine mother, symbolic of fertility and nurturing, and water is often the element associated with those deities, as is breast milk. Most of the sculptural depictions carved in Africa of Yemoja, feature her breasts.
When Africans from the West Coast were dragged in chains to the New World, they may have been stripped of their belongings but they were not stripped of their beliefs. The middle passage was across a frightening ocean in the bowels of slave ships, so to wash up on hostile shores enhanced the importance of the figure who represented that vast body of water and the essence of life itself.
Arriving alive, no matter the horrors, the enslaved Africans gave thanks to her for their lives, and up to this day, their descendants bring offerings of fruit and flowers to the sea, placed in little boats, as they light candles and sing songs of thanksgiving and praise.
All of the African-diasporic traditions in the New World honor the Divine Mother under many names like Kalunga (Madre de Agua) in Palo and La Sirene in Voudou.
The music I listen to—jazz, R&B, blues, and salsa—is black.
The blog porch where I sit, relaxed and comfortable with friends of all colors, is a black front porch called Black Kos.
Yes, I know this “black thang” is not one big solid demographic category, either. We have socioeconomic variation, regional and national variances, color-stratification, age sets, and a wide span of religious practices. Interestingly enough, regardless of our differences, we have consistently voted as what could be dubbed a “bloc” in every election in recent years.
We vote Black. Meaning no matter how we are being parsed, sliced, and diced, we are still far more unified as a voting group than any other demographic that selects Democrats.
And that seems to be worrying some not-black folks.