Not everyone defines “black” the same way.
June 16, 2015 7:33 PM   Subscribe

 
In a way it kind of pleases me that it took me a moment to realize that this was about race and not HTML #000000.

(This, despite being exposed to conservative talk radio this morning, where the host was bloviating about race, and I was picking apart his arguments, one after the other, with casual ease and trying to make his head explode with the power of my mind because GAH!)

And don't even (long pause) get me started (long pause) on that Shatner-esque (long pause) deliver that is (long pause) pretty much designed (long pause) to make it hard to (long pause) analytically think (long pause) about what he's saying.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:04 PM on June 16, 2015


I think the concept of double-consciousness applies to the definition of Black identity as much as it applies to the internal experience of the Black individual. That is, identity becomes not just a matter of whether the individual shares the racial, social, familial, and cultural ties with the Black community--it's also affected by how larger US society sees them. Whether or not one passes as Black or White changes how the rest of the world treats them and the assumptions made about them, which can be a real mindfuck for someone trying to figure out what Black means to them. If you're dark it's immediately assumed you grew up in the ghetto, if you pass as White people immediately stop ascribing any Black stereotypes onto you and you're separated from that experience of your peers. The Black community is as diverse in the lives and interests and backgrounds as any other group of individuals, but I would bet the experience of being subjected to the US's fucked up attitudes towards Black people and looking at oneself through that twisted definition of Blackness is universal to all its members.

And when you start defining Blackness--your own cultural identity--through that metric then you end up with situations like the article about Black men in STEM. Those schoolkids are viewing one's own identity and abilities through the eyes of the society they grow up in, rather than their actual life experiences.

That last article is discussing a very important point about how Blackness is perceived (and pathologized) in larger US culture, but I think they're off in their negative assessment of Black-ish. The title is clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek and the show is a lot smarter and more nuanced about its treatment of race than the article gives it credit for. Perhaps because this was written in October of last year, right after the show started? The author may not have seen enough episodes to gather that.
posted by schroedinger at 9:20 PM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


“Black Girl Magic! Get you some. Congrats to Our Lady @lupitanyongo on her Oscar win!” Innocent enough, right?

Promptly, a follower responded, “Actually, she’s Mexican.” It was said as if Nyong’o couldn’t be black and Mexican at the same time.


I did not know black meaning African American and not anyone with black skin and apparent African ancestry was a thing. The link about the UK does a good job of offering an explanation for why American people might feel that way. Then you get to the China article and it discusses how a black person is assumed to be poor and from Africa. The Chinese view of the African continent sounds pretty much like how America sees it. Loved the story about the AI fans.

My wife recounted a story of her younger cousin, who became a huge Allen Iverson fan to the dismay of her mother. During every game, she would don a Sixer’s jersey and plop down in front of the TV to cheer on her favorite basketball player. In order to spend more quality time with her daughter and understand her better, the girl’s mother began watching games with her child, and in no time became an avid Sixer’s fan as well.

AI always brings people together!

The information about black boys being pressured away from STEM is incredibly depressing, especially for a society that is going to blame them entirely for the bad choices they make and be very unforgiving about it.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:20 PM on June 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


That's a great article about Blackish. There's a lot of heart in that show but fundamentally it's hampered by what are to my eye network mandated appeals to chickencrap mainstream cultural stereotypes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting collection of links. Being somewhat of an anglophile I found "Lola Adesioye about the difference between being black in the UK and being black in the US" enlightening.

"A Minority in the Middle Kingdom: My Experience Being Black in China" dovetails with other black experiences in China that I have encountered before.

While on break, I overheard students speaking in Chinese about how they were paying so much money and wanted a white instructor. One student went so far as to say, “I don’t want to look at his black face all night.” There was nothing my supervisor could do. The market was demanding white teachers and the company was responding to that demand.

Whew. That's harsh. Although the popularity of the NBA in China is encouraging. IMHO, sports has (mostly) accomplished more good for race relations worldwide than can be calculated.

The information about black boys being pressured away from STEM is incredibly depressing, especially for a society that is going to blame them entirely for the bad choices they make and be very unforgiving about it.

Absolutely. Very depressing.

Thanks for posting, Brandon Blatcher.
posted by cwest at 9:57 PM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Sorry, we emphatically are not going to have a discussion about transgender / "transracial" equivalence here. Some more info in this Metatalk thread.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:14 AM on June 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


Thank you Brandon for this great post. Thank you Taz for your moderation. I am looking forward to an intelligent discussion.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:22 AM on June 17, 2015


overheard students speaking in Chinese about how they were paying so much money and wanted a white instructor

I've heard the same kind of stuff from Asian-American people trying to teach English in Asia. It reveals shocking ignorance about what it means to come from a multiethnic society, which is of course mirrored by Americans' own ignorance when they tell those same Asian-Americans how well they speak English and ask them where they're "really from."
posted by 1adam12 at 2:07 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for such a good post, Brandon. I was interested by the article on the UK - as a Briton myself I often wonder at the way discourse about race doesn't always acknowledge the very different way race works socially even in the Anglophone countries. One thing Lola Adisoye didn't talk about was the existence of a Black identity in the UK which was more of an umbrella term like the US's POC - see for example the Southall Black Sisters, a group of (initially) Asian women. I have the sense this is dying out now, but I'm having trouble googling for proper historical discussion on the subject.
posted by Acheman at 2:49 AM on June 17, 2015


Working in remote parts of South Sudan I met some local folks who felt that my African American coworker was white.
posted by tarvuz at 3:14 AM on June 17, 2015


Tarvuz, that sounds interesting, can you go into more detail about that?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:17 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


A philosophy professor of mine, who taught (among other things) the philosophy of race, said the exact same thing that tarvuz said. The professor had a black American friend who had visited Africa and was treated as "white."
posted by jayder at 5:38 AM on June 17, 2015


SO, we are all black people with a strong sense of having come from somewhere else - Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica, Barbados, and wherever else. We still have ties and links to our heritage and ancestry. Even if a black Briton has never been to their parents or grandparents homeland, they are still raised with a sense of being African or Caribbean. There are people in the UK who still ask British-born blacks where they are from, meaning where you are originally from. This wouldn't happen in the US, unless they are asking what part of America you come from.

This can be a strength because it means that a black Briton's definition of black is somewhat broader and is more connected to age old traditions from Africa and the Caribbean - I think this is very healthy.

In the US, they are several generations and hundreds of years deep when it comes to being black. Most black Americans have no idea where they originally came from due to slavery. So their understanding of being black is within an American context. It is not related to Africa or an island or to a culture outside of the US.


I get that this is a difference, but it's the difference between being a recent immigrant as opposed to being a descendant of slaves so one might take that into consideration.

But the sense of superiority in this rubs me the wrong way. I don't know if being more connected to "age old traditions" and an African culture is "a strength" or "very healthy" and to me this is a snobby attitude and a thinly-veiled put down of black Americans which I have heard on occasion from some of the East Africans I know who like to remind me that THEIR people were never captured as slaves (the implication being that American blacks were.) It's all very dreary and boring to see that even people who have so much in common can see so many different reasons to despise each other, but in this way we're really all the same.
posted by three blind mice at 5:44 AM on June 17, 2015


I get that this is a difference, but it's the difference between being a recent immigrant as opposed to being a descendant of slaves so one might take that into consideration.

That's exactly what the author is saying.

But the sense of superiority in this rubs me the wrong way. I don't know if being more connected to "age old traditions" and an African culture is "a strength" or "very healthy" and to me this is a snobby attitude and a thinly-veiled put down of black Americans

You are misreading the article.
posted by jayder at 6:10 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


A black British person who’s ancestors came to the UK from the Caribbean would be the ancestor of sugar plantation slaves wouldn’t they? - which makes any supposed slave/non-slave distinction moot. The Caribbean has a strong culture all of its own & that definitely carries over into its UK diaspora — I imagine that it’s this that the linked article is alluding to.
posted by pharm at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's an equivalence as the person immigrating to the U.K had a choice (to some degree anyway), whereas African Americans had none. I can imagine that that could lead to a difference in the way that they interact with the country they are in. And also that immigration by choice enables a greater racial identity to be preserved, so there are differences between Caribbean/South African/Kenyan immigrant communities in the UK which leads to a more fractured overall racial identity. The impression I get of the situation in the US is that the slave trade tried hard to destroy any cultural associations that slaves had, leading to a more monolithic black identity.
posted by Ned G at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2015


I did not know black meaning African American and not anyone with black skin and apparent African ancestry was a thing.

I don't think it really is. I think African American is a subset of Black, and there are multiple types of Black largely based on geographic location. I think it is apparently a U.S. thing to equate Black and African American and that's why we end up with situations like Idris Elba mistakenly being called African American by people who don't know better. It's easy make assumptions based on someone's appearance and ability to depict an American (versus British) accent in TV shows and films.

In the article about Black-ish, I wonder why the author didn't address the double meaning in the show's title. In African American Vernacular English, "ish" has another usage besides "sorta" and the show definitely addresses that other usage (although on broadcast network TV they can't actually speak it).
posted by fuse theorem at 7:40 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this post, Brandon Blatcher.

That STEM article made me sad and angry because 30 years ago, as a young black boy in South Florida, I went through the same crap with regard to being penalized both for performing too much blackness and for not performing enough blackness. I worry that my kids -- my son in particular -- are going to have to go through some of the same crap, and I pray that I've gained enough wisdom to help them along their paths.

That said, I think I still often struggle with defining not just blackness in general but my own blackness, especially in a city like Austin which despite the many wonderful things about it can be a bummer of a place to live for black Americans due to our relative scarcity.

And with that said, I feel that even though some obstacles remain, things have gotten better since the days where I was being mocked -- by blacks and whites alike -- for speaking "proper" English, not being a good dancer or basketball player and being in the math club.
posted by lord_wolf at 7:41 AM on June 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


Working in remote parts of South Sudan I met some local folks who felt that my African American coworker was white.

We tend to follow the rule that any black blood, no matter how little, makes you black, but I understand that commonly in Africa that's inverted so that any white blood, no matter how little, makes you white. This can be disorienting, but it helps show how cultural our categories really are.
posted by Segundus at 8:21 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


That STEM article made me sad and angry because 30 years ago, as a young black boy in South Florida, I went through the same crap with regard to being penalized both for performing too much blackness and for not performing enough blackness.

I hear ya man. In America, if you don't fit a particular mold, then you're not really black. I confused the hell out of my step-daughter, who biological parents are both white, when I married her mother. Because I never dropped any mad rhymes, aka rapped, and had zero interest in doing an sort of rap, she kept asking her mom if I was really black, heh.

Other white people I've worked with or known have fallen into the trap of considering me white because again, I'm not particularly vocal about being black and don't fit most of the stereotypes. My favorite example was a conversation a white co-worker and I were having some years ago about the state of things in America. He felt things were so much worse these days and even pointedly asked me, a black guy, "Don't you think things were so much better in the '50s?" I just looked at him and quietly said "Hey P___, you know I'm black, right? Things are so much better for me and mine these days." A sudden look of realization dawned on his face and I just laughed.

Being black is a great identity, but the nuances of it vary from culture to culture, job to job, person to person. Trying to say it's one particular set of behaviors, likes, dislikes or traditions is always dicey, but it's like that for a lot groups. One simply has to be aware of stereotypes, yet open to the possibilities of the individual.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 AM on June 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


An Irish-German friend of mine, who grew up in a remote part of Ireland, and whose skin colour happened to be quite dark, moved to the US and told me how irritated he felt when people called him "African-American". After several more years in the US, he told me that he now, unfortunately, better understood what "being black" entailed.
posted by meehawl at 9:47 AM on June 17, 2015


which is of course mirrored by Americans' own ignorance when they tell those same Asian-Americans how well they speak English and ask them where they're "really from."

I do this to white people sometimes. The weird looks are amazing. It'd probably be a fascinating youtube channel, I wasn't so lazy.

Also, some white people are very bad telling when they are being fucked with. It's kind of astounding how bad they are at it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:55 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have learned an enormous amount about the Black cultural identity in America in the past year, with a lot of that learning coming in the last week. These articles are great and are really adding to my understanding. Thanks, Brandon.
posted by KathrynT at 10:08 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another thanks for the great articles!
posted by lucy.jakobs at 1:11 PM on June 17, 2015


"Also, some white people are very bad telling when they are being fucked with. It's kind of astounding how bad they are at it."

Why would they assume that you're fucking with them? Just because they're white doesn't automatically mean that they're not immigrants or children of immigrants. Not all white people are multi-generational Americans.
posted by I-baLL at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Also, some white people are very bad telling when they are being fucked with. It's kind of astounding how bad they are at it."

They have no soul.
posted by jayder at 5:44 PM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Really thoughtful informative post, thank you.
posted by glasseyes at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2015




That article title should be prefaced with White.
posted by schroedinger at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2015


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