The Black Identity

Yesterday, I began a discussion on the differentiation of the labels "Black" and "African-American," in the post called "Why Don't You Call Yourself African-American?"  The instant I clicked publish, I wondered if people would be angry (like people were with Raven-SymonĂ©), if people would agree, or if people would even read the post—though I surmise that last one is a thought every blogger has at some point.

I was overjoyed when so many of my friends responded to the post and an actual discussion took place. The most beautiful thing is that we all have unique ideas and experiences that makes us feel differently about any and every topic I could come up with. These differences are what make us individuals.

The conversation among my friends on yesterday's post easily morphed into a discussion on identity, when a friend posited that "Black" was not a label but an identity. As I read the comment I couldn't help but smile, it was well stated, proud, and uplifting. It was the kind of thing I imagine hearing as a rallying cry. However, it drew me back to the same point I always find myself coming back to. What does that mean? Another friend added the words "Black Culture" to the conversation. Again, what does that mean? So I wanted to continue the conversation and I wanted to discuss two main concepts—identity and "Black Culture"—individually and then together.


The definition of identity, as given by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, is as follows: "who someone is; the name of a person; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others" [1].  Essentially, your identity is who you are as a person. Your identity is, as my friend pointed out, something you define and as the definition says, tells the world something about you.

Black Culture

What is "Black Culture?" What does it mean to be "Black?" There is nothing that can be defined that all black people share other than our African roots. Our ancestors, however, weren't necessarily from the same tribes or countries. I shared a classroom with another black girl on and off throughout high school, and while I will run out of fingers recounting the racist and/or microaggressive comments and experiences I dealt with in high school, she asserts that she's never witnessed or been a victim of racism. I grew up on a farm, was introduced to Bach and Beethoven around the age of four, but I didn't know who 2Pac was until after he was dead. As I walk around campus, I see many black faces, but they are not speaking English; I don't understand the language they speak, I can't even identify the language they speak. I would say what we share is the fear that our fathers, uncles, brothers, and sons won't come home because they've been shot, but we don't even all agree on that. I would say that we share a phenotype, but as a friend pointed out, there are people who identify as "Black" that don't look black by society's definition of black. To try to define what it means to be "Black" or what "Black Culture" is, is to generalize. These generalizations bring forth the hated (by me at least) phrases "acting black" and "acting white."

The Black Identity

If I say to you, "I am a black person," what does that mean? What does that tell you about me? Does it tell you the shade of my skin? The color of my eyes? The texture of my hair? Does it tell you my favorite genre of music? Something about my spirituality or beliefs? Does it tell you what types of books I like to read or what I want to do with my life? If you don't know me (which some of you don't) and you try to answer any of the above questions based on the statement "I am a black person" you are stereotyping me. This is exactly what happens to young men like Trayvon Martin—instead of seeing Trayvon Martin, a youth walking in the neighborhood, George Zimmerman saw a black man in a hoodie. He applied his own definition to the identity of black and that definition was thug, hoodlum, troublemaker.

I can decide what I think it means to be "Black" and I can choose to identify as "Black" (which I do). I can actually choose to identify as "White" if I want; no one will stop me. But when I walk outside, other people will identify me as black (or not black surprisingly) based on their definition of what they think black means. I have no control over this.

I asked the question: Do you identify as "Black" or African-American? Most people said "Black," though a few said both. There's only one box. Just as these two options share a box, they share the same definition in my white peers' minds. This is why I consider both a label; neither can assure accuracy in anything you assume about me.  This is why I entitled the poem from yesterday's post "A Slave to Being Black." I have no choice in how the world identifies me. This is why I said when the labels are not the forefront of the picture, when I become a person who happens to be of brown complexion with slave and African ancestry, instead of a "Black" person, we will see an end to racism.


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