A shared complexion does not mean black culture is homogeneous. It's rather diverse with layers of intricacies just like any non-black culture.
It’s been 50 years since the civil rights movement in America. And I'll turn 30 on June 21, and luckily I’ve had the opportunity to reap the benefits of my ancestors' struggle and hard work that eventually brought some degree of respite to generations that followed them.
However, the reality is that black people are still vulnerable to police brutalities, subtle or in-your-face racism, even though we not so long ago had Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. The movement for equality has had many ups and downs and wins and losses. Yet, I'm baffled that 50 years later people still think all black people are the same.
I grew up in a predominantly white, suburban Texas area. The high school I graduated from had approximately 50 black males out of 6,000 total students. I attended a historically black college called Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, and then pursued a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York. I’ve travelled the world for three months doing a sports documentary about children getting off the couch and being active. So we went snowboarding, snow jumping, trapeze, kayaking, even pole dancing, travelling almost 15 countries. My cultural heritage and identity has resonated and grown throughout those experiences. I’ve been homophobic, devoutly christian, and even a dope boy. But now I have an eclectic mix of friends, a unique love of the universe and people, and a savings account dedicated to buying a home.
But at the end of the day, I’m a black man in America who faces cultural and political micro or macro aggressions everyday. I even started my own trending news series called angry educated black man on Instagram to have a coping outlet for my mental stability. However, I definitely didn’t experience the physical and mental hardships my ancestors did, but the phenomenon of mental slavery in black people today is extremely nuanced.
I recently had a work colleague (she is white) at my job ask about cultural sensitivity regarding identifying black nationalities because in one instance an interviewee specifically told her African American was not an accurate description. But in another following instance she stated the awkwardness felt when she called the interviewee black.
Not only was I upset that the interviewee she spoke with said African American was not an accurate description, it was even more troubling to know she diligently wanted to be respectful of the people she was interviewing, but was receiving two different viewpoints that were not really verifiable. She simply wanted to put some respect on our name.
My advice was to be as specific as possible: ask them what they prefer. Where are they from? What is their nationality? Tell me about your family.
Rather than throwing a label on black culture, we can explore the intricacies within it and learn or ask about these intricacies to enrich people’s cultural individuality and interpersonal experiences.
It's crucial to separate the idea of black culture as synonymous with being black because black is a colour. Black culture consists of people of different ethnicities, languages and backgrounds. It's quite obvious, but people tend to complicate it.
The struggle for black equality has occurred everywhere because slavery, inequality, and racism are prevalent across the world, and origins exist within “white privilege.”
Inherent racism is a universal archetype within the black struggle for equality and racism is exclusive to blackness within that struggle. So when I’m in Austria for the national Ski Championships and an Austrian native comes up to me and says “hey, my Nigga,” because he thinks it’s cool, or working as a server at Carrabba's Italian Grill an NBA Basketball game comes on and a hostess turns to me and says “Don’t you like basketball.” Or when I’m four years old and another white child calls me “Nigga” because that is what his Grandpa says.
All of these examples of racism are related to the perceived colour of my black skin within the social construct of society.
However, I think a stark confusion exists between the idea of blackness and the struggle for equality.
Every black person's idea of blackness is different, and it differs from person to person. So to even have a base idea of what blackness is — it starts simply with the colour of one’s skin. The subjective nature of skin colour itself can make the term blackness arbitrary. Individuals scientifically tend to perceive colour differently in the retina and along with societal standards that label people light skinned, dark skinned, red complexion, milk chocolate complexion. Unwittingly or not, these perceptions wield a strong influence over people’s behaviours. However, I identify with a sense of black pride synonymous with the utmost blackness.
As an African American, to me there is a distinct difference between myself and another black person transplanted from another island such as Haiti, Barbados, or African Country or Afro-Latino influence. As an African American, I see anybody who is in America as black because ultimately the police treat you like a nigga regardless of which country you may come from, and because of many factors within the spectrum of “blackness” and “the struggle for equality,” unity becomes stifled.
In the 1960s and 70s, the civil rights movement fought for equal rights and privileges, including affirmative action and allowing people citizenship who came here from other countries. Freedom from racial discrimination as well as the right to vote. Equal housing, education, employment and access to public and private facilities. It restored the rights stripped fr om us by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment. The movement benefited people with disabilities, women, immigrants, and many others.
By not questioning or rethinking the arbitrary definition of blackness, you fuel divisions, construct a perception that darker people are uglier, less than or unintelligent.
But the arbitrary definition of blackness promotes the design of discrimination to prevail within white privilege. The problem begins when black is seen as an identification, not colour.
For example, Trinidad and Tobago culture or Barbados culture or Ghana culture. Nuances and intricacies within the people of those cultures make them just as unique as any other non-black nationality.
I take pride in my African-American culture and understand it’s complexities within defining cultures all together.
So who are African-Americans? Dark-skinned Native Americans were enslaved by force along with Africans from multiple nations brought by ship, making up what you would call modern day African Americans. This element unites us and indigenous American people in a unique way, and we created a resounding culture that influences the world. It lends some clarity to our beginning despite no written history of us as slavery began. Take 400 years of oppression, discrimination, death and violence, what has come out of it is modern-day African American culture, which, frankly, is constantly being misunderstood and taken for granted.
To me, the worst is side-hand remarks from people within black culture.
One time I had a conversation with a cab driver on my way home from JFK Airport. He asked: “Are you dominican.”
I said, "No. I’m African American.”
He said, “Oh you know you could pass for Dominican, you should go with that.”
I said, “F**k No. I’m African-American, and this is my f**king country. Dominicans should thank my ancestors for fighting for not just their civil rights but their right to be in this country.”
That’s cultural classism in my own country.
The cab driver telling me, “It’d be better if you said you were Dominican” is an example of verbally fighting these misunderstandings; it’s a never-ending battle. These experiences are minuscule I’m sure to what my ancestors experienced, but it’s important to be heard and to speak up because if they didn’t do what they did, I wouldn’t be going to Brazil for my 30th birthday.