Monday, August 13, 2007

Acting White: What Kind of Black Are You?

Once I was beyond my knee-jerk offense to this question, I was able see the progress that it also represents. Seeing different blacks, especially in America, is a challenge for people, including the native-born among us. Blacks are traditionally viewed and presented as a monolith, one-size fits all category - a distillation which simply cannot accurately represent the diversity of the group.

Recognizing different blackness is critical, in my view, as it allows us to trace sub-groups of people, cultures, behaviors, histories, while making important distinctions reflected in different rates of progress and advancement. This unevenness of result occurs even while we live under one ‘societal’ system. The success of recent African immigrants in attaining college degrees (28%), the highest of any group including white males, is just one example of differing behaviors and results, which beg scrutiny for the benefit of trailing blacks.

As an aside, I recall that my 80 year-old mother, while visiting England and Italy, was very annoyed that Africans whose paths she crossed, failed to acknowledge her in any form compared to blacks in the states. She reluctantly accepted my explanation that black-skinned people are not all the same. However, she was amused that white Americans, to whom she was normally invisible, sought her out as a ‘friendly face’ in a sea of distant Europeans.

To take it a step further, we think of Africans as one people, but to native Africans the idea of this is absurd. Science tells us what these people already know, that in no other place on the planet is genetic diversity, that which lies beneath the skin, greater than in Africa. Skin color is an adaptive genetic trait dictated by latitude – or amount of sunlight – and inasmuch, it is malleable and useless as a genetic identifier.

So do not just ask me what kind of black I am, take it a step further to get to know me. Caribbean blacks for instance, a minority among minorities, joke about how many jobs they hold simultaneously in their quest to get ahead. But if you bump into a black undergrad in Harvard Yard, there’s a 50/50 chance they or their parents are from the islands or Africa. Joke perhaps, and laughing all the way to the bank too.

James C. Collier


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1 comment:

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