One of the experiences that often makes being “Black” so lonely is the fact that dissention seems to be everywhere. We are at risk of being discriminated against by “White” people and by other Blacks. I call this the “Blackened Blues.” My experience with this phenomenon began in junior high school, in the 8o’s—when all of a sudden, it became en vogue to be anything other than a “Black American.” Suddenly, people starting “coming out” as being “Jamaican.” In the 80’s, all Black immigrants were thought to be from Jamaica. A few years later, people started realizing that all “Black immigrants” (more on this term later) weren’t from Jamaica.
People that I had been friends with for years suddenly revealed they were not “American.” It was crazy. Then, the trend of referring to North American Blacks—Blacks whose parentage and direct ancestry is not related to the Caribbean and Continental Africa—as “Black Americans” began. The idea behind referring to North American Blacks as “Black Americans” was West Indians’ first attempt at disassociating themselves from “other” Blacks. This lasted for a few years, before West Indians discovered that they looked and sounded silly calling “other” Black people “Black Americans,” when they too were Black and in America. Prior to this, “Black” people in North America were referred to as “Black,” “Afro-American,” or “African-American.” In fact, I recall that in the 80’s, Jesse Jackson led a campaign to refer to “Blacks” as “African-Americans.” If my memory is serving me correctly, a movement began at this time to make “American” the suffix of nationalities for people who reside in America. So we started calling people “Caucasian-American,” “Asian-American,” “Italian-American,” and so forth.
Now, I find that some Blacks—West Indians and Continental Africans—have commenced a campaign to convince White people that the term “African-American” only refers to North American Blacks—Blacks born, and, or, raised, in one of the 50 states. This campaign is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First, all Blacks whether they want to be or not, are descendants of Africa. Many Blacks are ashamed of their African heritage, and go to great lengths to convince others that they are “Black—but not that kind of Black.” Before any “African-American” was American, they were African—and are only African-American by way of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which most believe occurred between 1525 and 1857. Similarly, West Indians/Caribbeans are West Indian by way of the Slave Trade. To be clear: Enslaved Africans were taken from Africa and dispersed and brainwashed among North, South and Central America (which makes them “American” too, doesn’t it?) The only true West Indians—if that’s what they even called themselves—are the indigenous people of the Caribbean, such as the Arowaks and Tainos—just like the only true Americans are the people who inhabited America before it was colonized and named America. How silly people look calling themselves “Jamaican,” “Trinidadian,” and using other such ethnic labels to identify themselves, when those labels came about as the result of historical circumstance. I just chuckle: Colonization has not been kind to the Black mind.
And while we’re on the topic of silly, what should continental Africans—Blacks born and raised in Africa, and who can trace their immediate ancestry back to Africa simply because the Slave Trade slowed down and, or, ended before their ancestors were forced to live in North America—call themselves after they are naturalized as American citizens? Wouldn’t the correct name for them be “African-American?” Should it be “African-African-American?” Should it be “Continental African-American?” Or should we take the time to learn our history and about why we want so badly to dissociate ourselves from one another?
A while ago, I was watching an “African” comedienne do a stand-up routine. She introduced herself as being “African—and not African-American either. I’m African African,” is what she said. I turned the channel after that. What is “African African?” Had it not been for her going through such lengths to make sure the audience knew that she was not a North American Black, her ethnicity would not have been known. She had no accent or other identifying features. She looked like she could have been from anywhere—the Carolinas, Compton, Chicago—anywhere.
But, I guess I should clarify the shame. The shame is being an “American” Black—even though many of the Blacks who want to dissociate themselves are more “American” than both American Whites and Blacks! So, nowadays, you’ll have a Black person whose parents were born in the Caribbean, who identify completely with “African-American” culture from their modes of dress and speech to their taste in food and music—who will claim not to be “Black” or “African-American” simply because they want to leave a certain impression with a particular audience. Similarly, people who “look Black” are coded as being “Black,” “African-American,” or “Black/African-American,” so the statistics about “African-American” literacy, birth, social service involvement, and incarceration rates, and socio-economic status—just to name a few—include data about “other Blacks” as well. It is therefore unfair and insulting for a group of people to be allowed to add to the statistics of another group, and then dissociate from that group when it becomes convenient to do so.
For example, the doctor that is accused of “killing” Michael Jackson, Conrad Murray, is West Indian. Yet, when statistics are recorded about doctors in California that have lost their license, he is likely to be recorded as “Black/African-American.”
I wouldn’t have a problem with some Blacks wanting to dissociate themselves from other Blacks if a distinction really deserved to be made. But, the fact of the matter is that Blacks as a whole have not recovered from the psychological damage we experienced during the Enslavement Process, and the subsequent ills play out in all Black communities—not just those that include North American Blacks. When the mug shot of a “Black” person is broadcast on television, you do not know if that person is a North American Black, West Indian, or Latino. All West Indians do not have accents. Some Latinos are dark-skinned, with tightly-curled hair. It is not uncommon, for instance, for the mugshot of a “Black” person with locs (dred locks) and dark skin to be broadcast, and for the suspect’s last name to be something like “Mendez,” or “Rodriguez,” which most people associate with being Latino. There is no way to distinguish between North American and South and Central American Blacks by way of their last names, since the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade resulted in North, Central, and South American Blacks having last names that reflected those of our European captors, and Blacks transported from various regions having the same last names. Our first names aren’t telling, either. I’ve met just as many West Indians with names that rhyme with “eesha” and “eeka,” as I have met North American Blacks with such names.
The term “African-American” is now the same as saying “Bad Black Person.” There used to be a time when certain attributes were associated with “Blacks” in general—attributes like chastity, discipline—now I’m hearing people attribute these qualities to so-called “immigrant Blacks” only—and suggesting that North American Blacks are the reason for everything that is wrong in Black communities and North America. Having all Blacks’ shortcomings coded as “Black/African-American” statistics is not fair and frustrating. When Caribbeans, continental Africans, dark-skinned Latinos and other people that “look” Black show up to meetings late, perform below standard on standardized exams, get involved in the criminal justice system, use public assistance, and engage in dysfunctional behaviors, they are coded as “Black/African-American.”
Blacks are the only ones with this problem: I never hear Whites going through such pains to distinguish themselves from one another. I have never heard an Italian, British or Irish person, for example, insist on being called their ethnicity over being called “White.” Some Blacks think that being something other than “African-American” makes them more special, or that they are viewed differently or more favorably by Whites. Yet, when Abner Luimer, a Haitian—dare I say—immigrant—was sexually assaulted with a plunger by White police officers, clearly his status as a Haitian was not significant. When a comment was made about dropping a bomb in the middle of the Labor Day Parade in New York City—also known as the West Indian day parade—due to the large concentration of “Blacks” known to attend, there was no courtesy or consideration given to the ethnicities of parade participants or organizers.
Now let’s discuss their “immigrant” status. When White Americans refer to immigrants, they are generally referring to White-skinned people who had to learn English upon arriving in North America. Generally, the reference is to Eastern Europeans, Asians, and white-skinned Latinos. People with “Black” skin who arrive from another country are referred to as “Black/African-American,” especially those that simply have an accent. Continental Africans who have to learn English upon arrival have a better chance of being classified as “immigrants.”
So the question posed is: Should North American Blacks be more elitist? Should we turn our noses up at immigrants the same way they do, at us? Is it fair that after all the strides we’ve made that benefit us and them that we should allow them to disrespect our legacy by pre-judging us, calling us “lazy,” selectively forgetting that our ancestors literally bled and died for civil rights that they take for granted? We allow them to join our Black greek letter organizations and secret societies, to take advantage of our legal defense funds, to apply for scholarships and opportunities for “African-Americans,” while they set up organizations and scholarships from which we are excluded. Can “African-Americans” be eligible for the scholarship superstar Rihanna set up for Caribbeans? Are African-Americans eligible for a Golden Krust Bakery scholarship?
Why do we North American Blacks allow everybody to infiltrate our success, while no one allows us to infiltrate theirs? Our award shows, magazines, newspapers, and other publications that were designed to feature our success now includes them. Meanwhile, other groups establish organizations specifically designed to exclude them from us, and do not include us the same way we naively include them. Is this the same mistake the Native Americans made—giving too much and then being taken advantage of?
Now is the perfect time for us to re-examine our relationships with other groups. I can imagine that they may need our help given the hoopla about immigration status. They will probably start preaching that we all need to stick together, while crossing their fingers behind their backs until they feel secure enough to start outwardly sticking up their noses at us again.
I better not catch any North American Blacks helping with this immigration sh**, because if North American Blacks were the ones who needed saving, no groups would come to our aid. They’d be talking about how we deserve our fate because we’re lazy and didn’t take advantage of opportunities. Who would remind this country about our contributions? North American Blacks are therefore encouraged NOT to support the DREAM or DACA Acts. You wanted to be separate from us, now you’ve got a good chance at being separated from us!
Spent all that time disassociating from so-called “African-Americans,” and thinking that their immigrant status made them more valued, now they see . . . Clayton Bigsby Syndrome
has gotten them nowhere.
This is a great time for North American Blacks to mobilize and preserve our legacy.