Sunday, April 6, 2008

Race, Color, and Nationality

When it comes to certain labels in America, I am confused and I don't think I'm alone. It is not as simple as black and white, pun definitely intended.

The issue came up during our monthly genealogy meeting. I think it started because one of the members was displaying her DNA results. She was happy that her African roots had been identified but she was mystified that there was no trace of Native American DNA. She always believed she was part Indian. It forced her to accept her European ancestry. This led to a lively discussion about our collective identities.

I consider myself a Black American. Others see themselves as African-Americans. My confusion comes because I believe that anyone with ancestry from Africa and citizenship in America can be called African-American. Charlize Theron can be called African-American. And what about African slave descendants that live in the other Americas like Canada or Brazil? To compound my confusion, some people including some of my club members believe that Barack Obama can't be called an African-American or Black because he isn't descended from African slaves. But his father was African and he even knows what part of Africa from where he came unlike the majority of Black Americans. Crazy

When you add Native Americans into the mix it gets even more confusing. There are Black people with Native American genes and Whites who married Indians that are being denied their Indian heritage by the ruling tribal councils. Even though these individuals are descended from people on the Dawes Rolls (the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes) and have documented proof of their ancestry, they aren't recognized as citizens of their tribes. Those that are disenfranchised are accusing the Indian tribal councils of racism.

There are other divisions in our society and within the sub-cultures. It was pointed out at the meeting that someone knew a lady who was American but whose parents were from Japan so she considered herself Japanese not American. Puerto Ricans consider themselves Puerto Rican, not Black or African-American even if they have ancestors from Africa.

I guess it comes with our melting pot culture. And it is a testament to our democratic society that we all sort of kind of get along even with all the labels and hyphens. But it sure would be less confusing without them.

6 comments:

M.J said...

I can definitely understand where you are coming from. My mother is Afro-Cuban and my father is half black, half Irish and when I am asked to identify myself on an application I always put other. Some people don't understand that because when you look at me, I'm black and nothing more. I mean forget the fact that I grew up in predominately Cuban household that spoke mostly Spanish yet celebrated St. Patrick's Day with my Father. I think sometimes people get so hung up on labels and identity that they forget to embrace everything that makes them who they are. I do consider myself African American, Cuban, and Irish and I love every part of it.

I enjoyed reading your post!

A. Spence said...

"Charlize Theron can be called African-American" My mother has this same argument. She says that we as black people need to stop calling ourselves African American and we are black americans.

She is from Ethiopia and won't put a race down on the census b/c she says that she is not African American or black. she's just an american.

Jennifer said...

I agree with your mother. I am an American who happens to be black. It doesn't make me less proud of my heritage, all of my heritage. I think that's where some of this started because long ago many of us were ashamed of who we were. And like you M.J., I love every part of what makes me me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone here. We need to talk about this stuff more, not argue or belittle someone who disagrees. I am of Native American, Northwest African, & Irish descent. Some of the Native Americans are Mexican FROM California & Texas when it belonged to Mexico. I just put "American" & for race I put "human". I consider myself Native American because if you go to Italy, they say "Italian", not "African European" or "African Italian". When one gets to know them, they find out their actual heritage. If someone doesn't want to get to know you on friendly terms, then they have no business worrying about your heritage. I say "Native American" because when I walk through the woods I am walking on the same soil & looking at the same trees most of my ancestors walked on & saw thousands of years ago. I'm rooted here, but I don't negate or hate the African or Irish. Furthermore, I think we should use labels that reflect the nations of Africa. My African ancestors I believe were Gambians. There are many different countries in Africa & I feel it's an insult to the people & their descendents not to recognize this. Peace!

wbriana6 said...

Yeah, most people label us. Or they like to stereo-type us. My acquaintances ask me what's my nationality. What do I say? Human...
I am a Black American, proud of my race. I don't want to be any other race. I like taking long walks to think about life, I like to ride my bikes, no matter how many stink eye's I get. I'm A proud Human Being, A proud American. I am Black, and I am proud.

RJ said...

I agree, we should discuss this more because our people are confused. It's not proper to call ourselves black or African American. Africans don't call themselves African so how are we?! From this day forward my nationality is- Native American, Moor. I will not be ashamed!