A Pragmatic Cost/Benefit Analysis For African-Americans Considering Trying To “Pass” As Anything Other Than Black
LET’S HAVE A PRAGMATIC CONVERSATION ABOUT THE COST-BENEFIT EQUATION INVOLVED IN AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN BLACK PERSON RENOUNCING THEIR ETHNIC AND RACIAL IDENTITY
I’ve been avidly reading about a line of thought that another blogger I greatly respect (Evia, blog host of Black Female Interracial Marriage Ezine) has been promoting. She’s made several references to an idea that she calls “Passing as Black.” She can correct me if I’m misconstruing her position, but my understanding of her argument is that she feels the only way African-American Black women can escape being entrapped as self-sacrificing, exploited mules for the dead Black community is if they discard their ethnic identity as African-American Black women. And define themselves as something other than African-American or Black.
I hadn’t originally planned on dedicating a post to this issue; but I ultimately decided this issue was important enough to interrupt my scheduled blog posts. Even if I’ve misunderstood Evia’s position, I’d still like to discuss this “let’s drop the Black label” issue before moving on to the next book interview post. This is worthy of discussion because this topic is a recurring idea among African-Americans.
The quest to be something . . . anything . . . other than Black people who are specifically African-Americans is not a new idea. Actually, it’s a very old idea. An idea that dates back to slavery days. Ever since our West African ancestors were conquered, captured, and kidnapped into slavery there have been periodic calls among African-Americans to run from our racial and ethnic identities as racially Black people who are of specific African-American heritage. Over the years, these calls were typically made by a number of Black male religious leaders such as Noble Drew Ali (“Don’t call us Black, we’re Moors”) and Warithudeen Mohammed (Elijah Muhammad’s son, who encouraged his followers to adopt the attitude of “Don’t call us Black, we’re Bilalians”).
Whenever this “let’s drop the ‘Black’ label” idea comes up there’s usually an emotionally overwrought conversation that revolves around what folks perceive as the ethical aspects of trying to pass or be recognized as something other than Black. Or we get into idiotic, theoretical conversations about things like the one-drop rule. We never stop to ask whether there are situations in which the one-drop rule works for our interests, as opposed to working against our interests. In fact, we typically never even consider what our interests might be during most of those conversations.
Let’s not do that for this conversation. Let’s also refrain from fixating on any questions or objections we might have about: (1) the idea of applying slave-plantation-based terminology (“passing”) to ourselves; or (2) the assumption that the only way African-American Black women can escape being entrapped as self-sacrificing, exploited mules for the dead Black community is if they discard their ethnic identity as African-American Black women. I disagree with both of these points, but that’s not my focus here. Instead, let’s focus only on the practical questions of:
- Cui bono–who, if anybody, benefits when an African-American Black person runs away from the “Black” self-description? What do they gain?
- Who, if anybody, loses when an African-American Black person runs away from the “Black” self-description? What do they lose?
- Has running away from the “Black” description ever worked in the past? If so, for whom, to what degree, for how long, and under what set of circumstances did it work?
We’ll also keep in mind there are two broad categories of benefits. There are emotional benefits and material benefits such as political, and monetary gains. Let’s examine these questions in various contexts.
At the end of the day, I don’t care what you choose to do with your racial and ethnic identity. Your identity is your identity. This is like the former Berlin Wall. If you have to imprison people to keep them counted as among you, then what is the point?
Nevertheless, I do care about the practical effects of certain ideas. While African-American Blacks are eagerly fragmenting into various Please Let Me Be Something Other Than Black groups, Latinos of all races and ethnicities in the US are busy making sure their group’s numerical head count is all-inclusive and thereby increasing. They are careful to count every partial and possible “Latino” as Latino (whether they’re White, Black, Amerindian, or any racial appearance in-between). One might even say that Latinos in the US are applying their own version of a one-drop rule in order to boost their political head count numbers!
I do care about things like the Congressional seats (and other political offices) that my ethnic group will lose because of our declining percentage of the population. Having my ethnic group gradually become disenfranchised by the loss of political representation does not benefit me. Part of why our percentage of the US population is shrinking is because increasing numbers of us are opting out of being counted as members of our ethnic and racial group. All these newly self-defined as Something Other Than Black ex-Black people represent subtractions from the African-American Black head count numbers. Those numbers aren’t being taken away from the White American head count, or any other head counts. I believe in free will and free choice, so I have no interest in blocking anybody else from making their own choices. I also get to choose. I can choose not to support somebody’s else’s actions. Especially when their actions harm my ethnic group’s interests. I’m not going to cooperate with having my throat cut.
My main point of concern with this “let’s renounce our racial and ethnic identity” idea is that many of us are not making informed choices when we support this idea. There’s never any serious cost-benefit analysis of this idea. There’s no pragmatic discussion of how various Black folks’ attempts at discarding the Black label worked or didn’t work. And no discussion of the underlying mechanisms that determined whether these previous attempts were successful, to what extent, and under what type of circumstances. The persistent lack of clear thinking about this issue is what concerns me. With this conversation, I hope to point out some things that many of you are unaware of and haven’t considered.
Ultimately, I want more African-American women to get in the mental habit of always asking “What’s in it for me?”
Because of the multiple layers and nuances involved in this issue, this will be a long post with a number of links to other materials. I’ll also need to review some important points that we’ve previously discussed. You might need several sittings to digest this post. Please be advised that there’s also going to be some REAL TALK here; I’m not going to be as diplomatic as I usually try to be. This is just too important for that; we need to seriously talk shop.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—IF YOU IDENTIFY AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A BLACK PERSON WHO IS OF SPECIFICALLY AFRICAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE, PLEASE STAY OUT OF THIS PARTICULAR CONVERSATION
For reasons I’ll explain in some detail later, there’s automatically confusion created when foreign-origin Blacks are allowed to enter conversations among African-American Blacks about African-American identity issues. Our different histories mean that we’re often talking about different things even when we use the same words such as “Black.”
This post is directed only to my own specific racial and ethnic group. I’m talking to other African-American Black women during this conversation. So, if you identify as anything other than racially Black, stay out of this conversation. If you’re racially Black, but count yourself as part of any ethnic group other than specifically African-American, stay out of this conversation. I’m talking to my own people during this conversation.
Any cost-benefit analysis we do has to be separate from these other people because their interests aren’t necessarily in alignment with our interests as a specific racial and ethnic group. In fact, in several contexts, biracials’ and foreign Blacks’ interests are contrary to our interests. Each group (and each individual within each group) has to do their own cost-benefit analysis. Nonblacks such as biracials and foreign Blacks already know how to look out for their own interests. African-American Blacks are the only people who are too clueless to examine the question of who benefits from certain ideas.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—A NOTE FOR THOSE AFRICAN-AMERICANS WHO ARE CONFUSED ABOUT WHAT “AFRICAN-AMERICAN” MEANS
I would define “African-American” as being something parallel to the commonly understood (among themselves) definitions of “Italian-American,” “Irish-American,” “Hausa,” or “Jamaican-American.” In other words, being the descendants of a group of people that are—distinguishable from others—and connected to each other— by a shared set of historical experiences and cultural norms. When I say “African-Americans” I’m referring to those of us who are, distinguishable from others and connected to each other, by our shared historical experiences as descendants of those Africans who were held in slavery in the United States.
Just like every other ethnic group on the planet is—distinguishable from others—and connected to each other—by some shared set of historical experiences and cultural norms. Why is this concept so mysterious only when describing African-Americans? Answer: Because we’ve literally had our ethnic and racial self-respect beaten out of us. As a result, we slavishly look for validation from other people who do have some ethnic and racial self-respect for their own groups. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something will always rush in to fill one. Even if it’s something harmful, such as self-hatred.
Shared historical experiences and shared (general) cultural norms are not the same as the “acting Black” straitjacket. Sometimes an individual’s connections to their heritage, and to others from their group, are loose ones. That’s okay. Sometimes these connections are tighter (as I’ve noticed seems to be the general case among many Greek-Americans and Jewish-Americans). That’s also okay, for those folks who want closer connections with their group.
Many African-Americans say “Black” when they’re actually referring to what they (often mistakenly) believe to be African-American culture and shared historical experience.
This “acting Black” mess that many African-Americans speak is rooted in their ignorance of their actual history and cultural inheritance, and various types of dysfunction that they’ve lifted up (such as African-American gang subculture, African-American prison subculture). In short, the “acting Black” fools have confused their African-American historical and cultural inheritance with African-American gang subculture, African-American prison subculture, and African-American hip-hop subculture (which draws heavily from gang and prison subculture).
Many African-Americans have surrendered the “African-American” and “Black” labels to these nuts. And then many African-Americans run from the African-American and Black labels out of justified revulsion to the gang, prison, and hip-hop-based madness the nuts have defined as “Black.” But above and beyond the relatively recent decades of “acting Black” madness, there was much preexisting confusion among African-Americans. We often conflate “African-American” with “Black.” This confusion is leavened with large doses of racial and ethnic self-hatred.
I personally refuse to surrender the African-American and Black labels to the “acting Black” nuts. In my individual cost-benefit analysis, doing that would bring no benefit to me. I don’t have to discard the African-American and Black labels in order to not be a part of “acting Black” self-denigration.
When I ask the question “What would discarding the African-American and Black labels do for me?” the answer is “Nothing.”" But that answer is based on my specific personal history, temperament and circumstances. Other people might find some sort of benefit for themselves in doing that. If you believe you have something to gain by discarding the African-American and Black labels, then please feel free to do so. That’s the beautiful thing about free will and freedom. Folks can do whatever they want.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—WHEN YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE DOING SOMETHING, THAT’S A CLUE THAT WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING IS A BAD IDEA
This has been a recurring theme. I talk about this in the FAQ page to this blog,
African-American women are the only group of people on this planet who worry about “Black love” to their own detriment. Black men have never let “Black love” or any other ideology stop them from dating and marrying White or other nonblack women. Overall, Black men have not reciprocated Black women’s sense of obligation to the Black community. Judging from outward actions and words, most Black men are not concerned about building Black marriages and Black families. Only Black women seem to be preoccupied with “Black love” and “the Black family.” Black men generally don’t question other Black men’s decision to chase and marry nonblack women. Only Black women seem to be preoccupied with Black men’s reproductive and marriage choices, and how these choices impact the Black community.
. . . Other women of color, including African women, have never limited their marriage options out of a misguided and unreciprocated sense of loyalty. African-American women are the only women of color who go around publicly saying that they won’t date outside their race. No other group of women on this planet engages in this behavior. Not African women. Not Latina women. Not Asian women. Not Arab women. African-American women are alone on this planet in foolishly limiting their marriage options.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—AFRICAN-AMERICANS ARE THE ONLY TYPE OF BLACK PEOPLE WHO SLANDER AND RENOUNCE THEIR OWN ETHNIC IDENTITY. WHEN FOREIGN-ORIGIN BLACKS DISCARD THE ‘BLACK’ LABEL, THEY STILL PROUDLY HANG ONTO THEIR SPECIFIC ETHNIC IDENTITIES AS JAMAICANS, HAUSAS, AND SO ON
As I said in an earlier post:
African-Americans are the only Black ethnic group on the planet that’s so confused about, and often has an active aversion to, having our own ethnic identity.
I’ve never heard a foreign-origin Black person form their lips to disparage their own ethnic group by saying that they “don’t know what it means to be” Hausa, Jamaican, Panamanian, Dominican, or whatever else they are. African-Americans are the only ones who speak that form of negativity about their own group. You’re the only ones who do that.
. . . Remember, for some foreign-origin Blacks, their level of concern only extends as far as their own particular ethnic group. They only feel connected to: self, family, clan, and ethnic group. Not nation. And not race.
This means when foreign-origin Blacks throw away the idea of “Black,” almost all of them are still proudly hanging on to their specific ethnic identities as Jamaicans, Hausas and so on. It’s important to note that even the foreign-origin Black folks who say they “don’t know what Black means” still hang on to their particular ethnic identity (such as Hausas, Panamanians, Jamaicans, Dominicans). Even if they aren’t interested in anything “Black,” they never say they’re confused about what it means to be part of their own ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, when you as an African-American throw away the idea of “Black,” you’re throwing away the only smidgen of identity that you have! This is because most of you never took the time to develop any specifically African-American ethnic identity. While you’re busy making yourself . . . nothing . . . but a culture-free, “race is an artificial construct,” human being . . . these other types of Black folks are still proudly identifying with their specific Hausa, Panamanian, Jamaican, Dominican ethnic heritage as well as being “race is an artificial construct” humans.
They still (proudly) keep their ethnic “cards” in their pockets when they make these statements, while you completely empty your pockets when you do the same. Unless you develop any sense of specific ethnic pride, you leave yourself empty-handed when you throw away the racial identity card.
Can you see the difference between these two positions? Can you see that African-Americans are the only ones who are so confused about what it means to be part of their own ethnic group? Can you see that nobody else on this planet is claiming that type of confusion? When you’re the only one doing something, that’s usually a clue that whatever you’re doing is unwise.
These “I don’t know what Black means” statements don’t necessarily have the same effect or meaning when uttered by foreign-origin Blacks. This is because, unlike most African-Americans, foreign-origin Blacks are often making these statements in the context of maintaining their own ethnic self-respect. Their context is different from your context of having nothing but a racial identity (as “Black”-Americans).
. . . These other types of Black people have another way of identifying themselves (as Hausas, Jamaicans, Panamanians, and so on). As confused African-Americans, YOU’RE the only Black ethnic group that doesn’t recognize any identity more specific than “Black” for yourselves. You’re the only ones who call yourselves “Black” only. Sometimes, when foreign-origin Blacks are talking negatively about “Black,” they’re talking singularly about African-Americans. They’re talking about YOU.
I firmly believe that charity begins at home. Every culture on this planet has unhealthy aspects. Having unhealthy aspects is not the same as having nothing of one’s own and being a blank slate. Healthy people recognize that yes, they are part of the overall human race, and that on one level, race is an artificial social construct. However, healthy people also have more specific cultural identities besides simply human.
. . . African-Americans Can Learn Some Things From Foreign Blacks, Such As The Importance Of Ethnic Self-Respect
. . . I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling abroad. To say that African-Americans are very Westernized, and specifically very Americanized, after centuries of living here does not negate the fact that African-Americans are a separate, identifiable ethnic group. African-Americans are a people that are distinguishable from others, and connected to each other, by a shared set of historical experiences and cultural norms. African-Americans are not ethnic or racial blank slates.
African-Americans have legitimate cultural practices of our own. Is every single artifact of our African-American culture “legitimate”? No, but I vehemently disagree with the notion that African-Americans have absolutely nothing that’s real. I disagree with the idea of giving respect to everybody else’s cultural heritage while disrespecting my own by saying that I don’t have one. Or by saying that mine doesn’t count relative to other people’s cultural heritage.
For example, I don’t believe that West Indians or the various Black Latino ethnic groups have any more of a “real” cultural heritage than African-Americans. If African-American culture is a hodgepodge—as I’ve heard many African-Americans say in public—then the same applies to other Western Blacks. I never hear the African-Americans who make these statements apply the “hodgepodge” label to the cultures of other Western Blacks. They reserve that particular dismissive term and attitude for their own people’s culture.
The bottom line is that ALL Western Blacks are enmeshed in whichever European culture was and is dominant where they live.
English-speaking West Indians are enmeshed in British culture. African-Americans are enmeshed in British-descended, WASP culture (with pockets of also being enmeshed in French culture in Louisiana). Black Latinos are enmeshed with the culture of their former slave owners, the Spaniards.
Before somebody says that all these other Western Blacks have cultures that are more “real” than ours because they have their own independent countries, please consider the following questions. Are any of these other Black folks’ countries independent in the same way that China is independent of the US? Or are some of them independent the same way Mexico is “independent” of the US? Finally, are some of these countries independent to roughly the same extent the city of Detroit is independent? (For example, note that Puerto Rico is not an independent country.) Let’s be clear about all of this.
Even the straightened hair, green-contact-lens-wearing, skin-bleaching Sammy Sosa is not claiming confusion about his specific ethnicity as a Dominican. He’s not saying, “What is Dominican? I just don’t know what that means.” He simply wants to be any race but Black. Mr. Sosa is a good example of a Black person who has racial self-hatred, but not ethnic self-hatred. He’s thrown away “Black,” but he hasn’t thrown away the “Dominican” part of his identity.
African-Americans’ cultural heritage is no more (and no less) made up than those of these other Westernized Black people.
I’m not going to assign a rank to my cultural heritage that’s less than the rank these other Western Blacks assign to their cultural heritage. I don’t hear these other Westernized Blacks saying that they don’t have any culture of their own, or that they don’t know what it means to be part of their own ethnic group. I suspect this is because these other Western Black ethnic groups never demonized having ethnic self-respect as being something negative.
This is something positive that African-Americans can learn from other Black ethnic groups.
I strongly disagree with the idea of characterizing my ethnic heritage as consisting of nothing but pain. I’m not going to slander my own heritage like that. There have always been many good and admirable aspects to traditional African-American culture. Things such as a cultural tradition of emotional warmth, generosity, and hospitality that have nothing to do with pain, crisis, outsiders, or oppression.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—OTHER TYPES OF BLACKS WHO SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEIR ETHNIC CULTURES NEVER RENOUNCE THEIR ETHNIC IDENTITIES
What I find interesting (and instructive) is that the foreign Blacks who should be ashamed of their ethnic cultures somehow aren’t. No matter what sort of practices their people back home are engaging in. Such as the numbers of children being tortured and murdered after being accused of witchcraft in Nigeria. Such as East Africans hunting down albino people like animals because they believe that albino people’s body parts have special, magical powers.
My God, what kind of people do things like that? Real talk: Those are some sho’nuff Satanic activities. I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care, how prevalent these depraved practices are in those various African countries. Any is too many. Anything more than a handful of people doing these sorts of things says something extremely ugly about a particular culture. The bottom line is that significant numbers of Africans are doing disgusting, shameful things that nobody else does in large numbers (like hunting down and dismembering albino people).
Despite all of this, one never hears Africans from these cultures making the sorts of “I don’t see any value in my ethnic culture—my culture only consists of pain” types of statements that many African-Americans are fond of making. Africans from these cultures don’t make those sorts of statements because there’s no benefit for them in doing so. There’s nothing in it for them to make those sorts of statements. Instead, they hold their heads up, minimize, gloss over, or tell lies about the depravity within their own cultures. If they can’t deny and outright lie about the atrocities going on in their home countries, many of the Africans you’ll encounter will try to characterize their various cultures’ dysfunctions as the result of war.
No matter how painful and downright evil their ethnic cultures might be, Africans from these cultures never do what many African-Americans do—they never denigrate their ethnic heritage by saying that there’s nothing of value in their culture, or that their culture only consists of pain. I admire that in them; and I share that particular trait with them. Just like them, I refuse to abase myself; especially in front of outsiders.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—AFRICAN-AMERICANS SHOULDN’T LISTEN TO FOREIGN BLACKS CONCERNING IDENTITY ISSUES BECAUSE THEIR CONTEXT IS OFTEN TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN OURS
As I said in an earlier post,
Another problem is that most African-Americans are tone-deaf, and can’t hear the nuances in various statements. This is one reason why we end up being subservient to, and run over by, most other types of people that we encounter. Most African-Americans have the childish mental habit of assuming that other people, and especially Blacks from other ethnic groups, see the world the same way we do, and think just like us. They don’t. See this conversation at the previous blog that touches on this issue.
When African-Americans make these “I don’t know what Black means” statements they are publicly advertising their general lack of ethnic and racial self-respect. Most African-Americans have no sense of ethnic identity, and only a vague (and negative) sense of racial identity.
When foreign-origin Blacks make these statements they are, at best, neutral statements reflecting normal human patterns of how people set priorities. It’s normal human nature to take care of folks in this order: self, family, clan, ethnic group. With many people in many countries, “nation” isn’t even on that list. For other people, “race” also is not on that list; their concern only extends as far as their own ethnic group. With most people, outsiders are almost never on the “take care of them” list.
Most African-Americans have the “take care of them” list backwards compared to every other group of people. We put outsiders first and put ourselves last. African-American women put themselves dead last on the “must be taken care of” list. Our misleaders have programmed most African-Americans to look to create over-arching coalitions with anybody and everybody else . . . in the absence of taking care of self, family, clan, and finally, ethnic group.
Our misleaders have also programmed us to fixate on being “fairer than fair” to anybody and everybody except ourselves. This is why so many African-Americans will come to Black blogs to fight with other Black people to champion the interests of NON-Blacks (such as the “don’t you dare call me Black” so-called biracials, other so-called “people of color,” and so on). (Note that these other “people of color” generally only use that term to describe themselves when they want something from African-Americans. Many other “people of color,” such as many Latinos and Arabs, are heavily invested in self-identifying as “White” in every other context.)
All the above confused thinking is upside-down and backwards. And it doesn’t work.
On a practical level, you automatically create a lot of confusion when you allow foreign Blacks to enter conversations among African-American Blacks about African-American identity issues. Our different histories mean that we’re talking about different things even when we use the same words such as “Black.” Because they’re from all- or majority-Black countries, many foreign Blacks (Africans in particular) never had any sustained, everyday experience with racial competition. Their universe revolves around family, clan, and ethnic group/tribal interactions and rivalries. They’re not alone in this. One interesting thing I’ve learned from Korean friends and acquaintances is how clan-based Korean culture is. There’s still a certain amount of competition and friction between Korean clans whose ancestors lived under different historical Korean kingdoms.
All of the above means that when many foreign Blacks talk about dropping the Black label, they’re not throwing away anything that ever had any real substance or weight in their people’s history. Because even when they drop “Black,” they’re still holding onto what really matters to them—their specific ethnic identities as Hausas, Yorubas, and so on.
Meanwhile, for most African-Americans racial and ethnic identity are conflated and fused together. When we say “Black,” we’re referring to ourselves and our specific African-American ethnic identity. So when we spit on and throw away “Black,” we’re left with an empty space where one’s ethnic identity should be.
PRELIMINARY MATTERS—WHY TALK ABOUT SPECIFIC AFRICAN-AMERICAN IDENTITY ISSUES?
I talk about these specific African-American ethnic and racial identity issues because I want you to be as comfortable and relaxed with all facets of your identity as other people are with theirs. I want you to be relaxed and self-confident enough to enjoy all this world has to offer. Right now, most African-Americans can’t do this because we have emotionally charged relationships with various aspects of our identity.
I want you to hold your head high as you travel this world. Just like other people take what is good from the wider world without feeling compelled to discard their own identity. There are two unhealthy and extreme positions that insecure African-Americans take regarding their ethnic and racial identity. The first unhealthy position is to try to:
(1) minimize (“I’m 1/8 Cherokee, 1/27th Irish, 1/58th German, and . . . umm, I’m too dark to deny it, so I guess I have to say . . . Black”),
(2) deny (“I don’t know what Black means”), and finally
(3) erase (“I’m Cablanasian, biracial, multicultural, anything-but-Black”) the African-American and Black identities that most of us are deeply ashamed of.
The second, and ironically equally self-hating, position is to outwardly show fanatical levels of fixation on one’s racial and ethnic identity. Perfect examples of this second manifestation of feelings of inferiority are the legions of “Blacker than thou” Black male leaders who chased, sexed or married light, nonblack, and White women. Elijah Muhammad and his light-skinned, teenaged secretaries. Many if not most of the Black Panthers; see Bobby Seale’s autobiography A Lonely Rage for the details of the Panther leadership’s exploits while chasing nonblack women. Harry Belafonte. Amiri Baraka.
In fact, there’s currently at least one minister in the Nation of Islam who is married to a nonblack woman. I’m referring to one of Elijah Muhammad’s illegitimate children by one his light-skinned secretaries, Minister Ishmael Muhammad, who is married to a Mexican woman. For more examples regarding a number of Black male Pan-Africanist leaders, see this post by Halima, blog host of Black Women’s Interracial Relationship Circle. The list can go on.
I never understood either of these extremes. My parents raised me to have a healthy and most of all, relaxed sense of self-respect for every aspect of my identity.
It’s interesting. Without being “Blacker than thou” fanatics, they managed to raise me so that it never occurred to me to feel “less than” based on being a girl, or being Black, or being “Afro-American.” (That was one of the popular terms for us when I was a small girl.) While growing up, it never occurred to me to try to emphasize the White ancestry that led to the light skin and brown hair that runs through my family.
As a pre-teen, I was not excited to hear about the White family in the Southern town that my grandfather came from that has the same surname as him. I never denied that these particular White folks existed. Or that they were most likely related to us, but I didn’t feel any compulsion to emphasize them when the topic of my ancestry came up. Without knowing the term “reciprocity,” this concept was the basis for my indifference and apathy about these rumored White relatives. Since these particular Whites weren’t trying to track us down and claim us as relatives, why in the world would I want to chase them down or go out of my way to claim them?
At the time, I knew some other African-American 6th, 7th and 8th graders who were extremely frantic (every chance they got) to point out all the distantly related nonblacks in their family tree. I remember thinking how strange it was that they were so focused on people who weren’t equally interested in them. In fact, it sounded like many of these distantly related nonblack folks didn’t claim any kinship to them at all.
I was only interested in hearing about, and later on researching, the history of those ancestors who cared about having a connection to the rest of us.
My parents raised me to have ethnic and racial self-respect without disparaging other people. It’s possible to reject whatever injustice exists without engaging in stereotyping, or painting other people with a broad brush.
I also never understood the second extreme of “Blacker than thou” behavior. This includes the years I spent as a Black Nationalist. I didn’t hate Whites or nonblacks. I wasn’t fixated on outward displays of so-called Black consciousness. I wasn’t a natural hair evangelist who berated and harassed other Black women for wearing relaxed styles. I wore my hair however I felt like wearing it, including relaxed styles.
I was a Black Nationalist because I wanted my own people to have the good things that others have. Things like racial and ethnic self-respect, functioning communities, and so on. When I (briefly) considered joining the Nation of Islam during law school, it wasn’t because they talked about White people. It was because they talked about being a free and independent people like everybody else. It was because they took action in support of providing the “money, good homes, and friendship in all walks of life” that Elijah Muhammad promised for as many Black people as possible. It was because they were the only Black group I saw that had visible, tangible, consistent, long-term achievements in improving the lives of large numbers of African-Americans.
Anyway, both of the above-described extreme positions reflect insecurity and an inner belief that one’s own heritage is inferior. Healthy people don’t have emotionally-charged relationships with the various facets of their identity. They simply appreciate and when relevant, celebrate, their identities and go on with their lives.
Now that these preliminary matters are out of the way, let’s get to the mechanics of opting out of being Black, and seeking recognition as Something Other Than Black.
ON A WHITE-DOMINATED PLANET, ONLY WHITES HAVE THE POWER TO GRANT OR DENY EFFECTIVE RECOGNITION OF A STATE OF NON-BLACKNESS
On a White-dominated planet, these Something Other Than Black self-definitions only work and “stick” to the extent that large numbers of Whites agree to it. Whites (and where relevant, other nonblacks such as Arabs in the Arab world or the Whiter-looking Latinos in Latin America) are the ones who get to decide which (full or partially) Black people are recognized as Something Other Than Black.
Over the years, plenty of African-American Blacks have tried to be recognized as Something Other Than Black. Some examples of this are the “Don’t call me Black, I’m Moorish-American” members of Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America; and the “Don’t call me Black, I’m Bilalian” followers of Warithudeen Mohammed (Elijah Muhammad’s son). There are also the “Don’t call me Black, I’m just a Muslim“ African-American Sunni (“orthodox”) Muslims. This has never worked; these folks are still identified by others as “Black” on employment, police, and other official records. This hasn’t worked because White Americans generally haven’t bought into this. They have no reason to do so. There’s nothing in it for them in most of these situations.
IN GENERAL, WHITES ONLY RECOGNIZE FULL OR PARTIALLY BLACK PEOPLE AS SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLACK WHEN THEY GAIN SOMETHING BY DOING SO
In contrast to the masses of self-sacrificing and politically suicidal African-Americans, nonblacks consistently act in ways that advance their groups’ various interests. Nonblacks generally only recognize full or partially Black people as Something Other Than Black when there’s something to be gained by doing so. When there’s nothing for Whites to gain by granting Something Other Than Black status to various Blacks, they generally apply the “one-drop rule” to the Blacks around them. Here are some examples of situations where it has been to Whites’ advantage to grant the avidly sought-after recognition of non-blackness to various Black folks.
WHEN WHITES ARE LIVING AS AN EXTREMELY OUTNUMBERED MINORITY AMONG THE BLACKS THEY’VE CONQUERED
When you’re living among the people you’ve conquered as a very small minority, it’s in your extreme self-interest to keep the conquered population as divided as possible. For examples of this, see apartheid era South Africa, the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Louisiana during the French and Spanish colonial periods. Creating a hostile-to-Blacks, fifth column of “nonblacks” from among the conquered Black population was often a matter of physical survival for minority White ruling populations. I’ll note that in the Louisiana example, the ruling White male population wasn’t as outnumbered as in other situations, but there were emotional and sexual benefits involved, which I’ll discuss next.
WHEN THERE’S A SHORTAGE OF WHITE WOMEN AVAILABLE FOR MARRIAGE IN A COLONY
In various colonies, such as French and Spanish Louisiana, the recognition of a group of nonblacks from among the Black population had its origin in the shortage of available White women for marriage. French and Spanish White women with good reputations had very little interest in moving to Louisiana, Hispaniola, or other such places.
Meanwhile, French men and Spaniards needed wives of some sort in order to form families and grow the ruling population. Marrying Black African slave women was too much of a gamble to effectively serve that purpose–the odds were too high that these enslaved Black women might keep their primary loyalties with their own [Black] people. White male colonists needed concubines who would not identify with, and who had no loyalty to, other oppressed Blacks. In order to grow a population that would be loyal to France and Spain.
The solution was to create a new group of concubines from among the enslaved Blacks. And so French and Spanish conquerors recognized the children they had with enslaved Black African women as something other than Black. They then chose long-term concubines from among these newly-recognized nonblacks that they named “mulattos,” “quadroons,” and “octoroons.” This was the origin of the plaçage system, and the so-called “Creole” nonblack-Blacks in Louisiana.
This widespread granting of nonblack status to their half-Black children enabled White colonists to reverse their numerical status as an outnumbered minority among the Black people they conquered. Instead of being a tiny number of Whites ruling over what had been overwhelming numbers of conquered Blacks who shared the same racial identity and loyalties, they became a group of Whites ruling over a plurality of various categories of nonblack-Blacks. With all of these newly recognized as Something Other Than Black-Black folks looking to them for validation, and giving their allegiance to them. With the “official,” remaining Blacks becoming a much smaller percentage of the population.
This process is how it came to be that there are modern-era countries filled with racially Black people who choose their presidents and prime ministers from among the handful of White-looking people in the population. If these nonblack-Black populations weren’t “tripping” about their actual racial identity, they’d be more likely to choose political rulers who look like themselves. The Dominican Republic is a good case study for this point. [And for another point about the sometimes genocidal levels of anti-Black racism that many of these biracials and other nonblack-Blacks harbor against Black-Blacks; we’ll get to this later. ]
In the case of the Dominican Republic, take a look at the pictures of some of the early presidents of that country. Notice that in the 1800s a couple of men with highly visible Black ancestry such as Gregorio Luperón and Ulises Heureaux managed to acquire that office. Then look at the racial appearance of the presidents that followed them, including modern Dominican presidents such as Rafael Trujillo (who ordered the 1937 massacre of thousands of ethnic Haitians living in the Dominican Republic even though his grandmother was Haitian), Joaquín Balaguer, and Hipolito Mejia. We’ll get back to this massacre later.
It took a very long time for the Dominican Republic to get back to having a president like Leonel Fernandez who resembles the majority nonblack-Black population of that country. This sort of disempowerment is what happens to Blacks (including the nonblack-Blacks) in a multiracial society when Blacks fragment themselves into various nonblack categories. The final result is that all categories of Blacks, including the nonblack-Blacks, end up powerless. This is what will ultimately happen to African-American Blacks as we continue reducing our census-based numbers by championing full- and half-Blacks opting out of being counted as part of our group.
Once they were no longer so outnumbered, Whites often started taking away whatever perks had been previously associated with Something Other Than Black status. Things changed after Whites overturned their original minority status (either by an influx of Anglo Whites such as in Louisiana, or by the creation of a majority of nonblack-Blacks like in the Dominican Republic). The nonblack-Blacks began to lose the advantages they had relative to the Black-Blacks. In the US, whatever little perks that had been granted to known “creoles,” “mulattos,” “quadroons,” and “octoroons” were withdrawn. Think about Homer Plessy the “octoroon” who was the plaintiff in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case.
Once the population shifts like that, then generally only the very Whitest people in the society have the opportunity to move forward. Once that shift happens, ruling Whites no longer have anything to gain by allowing certain Blacks to advance. There’s no longer a potentially hostile, conquered Black majority to pacify with the hope of being granted Something Other Than Black status. The nonblack- Blacks are still conquered and poor, but they’re satisfied with having the crumb of being recognized as different than (and superior to, according to White supremacist thought) the fewer remaining Black-Blacks. Their thinking becomes very similar to that of poor Whites in the US. They’ll endure any kind of mistreatment from the ruling Whites and any amount of impoverishment, just as long as they can feel different than (and superior to) the Black-Blacks.
Like poor White Americans, the nonblack-Blacks’ self-esteem becomes intertwined with stepping on the Black-Blacks. Self-respect is measured by distance from the Black-Blacks. And what better way to make the point that you are distant from Black-Blacks than by harming them? Again, just like many poor Whites, the more racism and oppression they heap on the Black-Blacks, the better many nonblack-Blacks feel about themselves. And so you have half-Blacks like Tiger Woods going out of his way to tell anti-Black racist jokes in the presence of a reporter. We’ll get back to Tiger Woods.
Once the population shifts in a way that Whites are no longer extremely outnumbered, then only those nonblack-Blacks who have a physical appearance that can deceive Whites into believing that they’re totally White can effectively partake of that society’s opportunities. Remember how long it took for the Dominican Republic to get back to having a president that has highly visible Black ancestry like most of the population.
WHEN A WHITE MOTHER OF A HALF-BLACK CHILD DOES NOT WANT TO FURTHER DAMAGE HER STATUS AMONG OTHER WHITES
This motive is what has been driving White mothers of half-Black children to have their children recognized as something other than Black. That was the origin of the craze to have their half-Black children identified as “biracial” instead of Black. To be the mother of a “Black” child is to take on part of that Black child’s stigma. White women who are mothers of Black children usually try to distance themselves from that stigma as much as possible. One way to do this is to deny that their child is Black. Let’s not be confused by drawing false equivalents to the context surrounding half-Asian children.
Unlike African-Americans, Asians (except for Filipinos—which is a large part of why they’re not respected by other Asian nationalities) never lost sovereignty over defining membership in their own race, ethnic groups, and bloodlines. Regardless of what any non-Asian parent of a half-Asian child thinks or wants, most Asian cultures only consider a person truly Korean, Chinese, and so on if that person is 100% genetically Korean or Chinese. Coming from the Asian side of the equation, the option of a part-Asian mixed race person being considered genuinely Korean and so on by other Koreans, etc. was never really on the table in the first place.
Anyway, these White women’s motives for denying that their half-Black children are Black are the reverse of an African-American Black parent’s motive for denying that their half-Black child is Black. The White woman is trying to stem the damage she’s done to her own status among other Whites by having a Black child. She’s trying to distance herself from the perceived stigma of her child’s Black ancestry. Meanwhile, the “don’t you dare call my child Black, s/he’s biracial” Black parents are trying to attach themselves to the perceived superior status of their child’s nonblack ancestry. These are some of the emotional and social payoffs involved in this behavior.
WHEN THE FULL OR PARTIALLY BLACK PERSON IS CONSIDERED AS ASSET THAT CAN BE ACCESSED INSTEAD OF A LIABILITY–”MONEY WHITENS”
When the full or partially Black person (usually a man) has money or other resources that nonblacks in his circle want to get their hands on, then they’re motivated to play along with his quest to be identified as Something Other Than Black. One can see this in the Tiger Woods example. White women who are angling to access his money have a motive for playing along with him describing himself as Something Other Than Black. White men, such Fuzzy Zoeller (who made the “fried chicken” comment about Woods) have nothing to gain by describing him as Something Other Than Black.
The above sorts of cost-benefit calculations are why Whites sometimes decide to cooperate with granting nonblack status on a full or partially Black person. Let’s review some other cost-benefit ratios.
ARAB AND OTHER NONBLACK MUSLIMS REAP THE MOST MATERIAL BENEFITS FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSLIMS SAYING “DON’T CALL ME BLACK, I’M JUST A MUSLIM”
Tariq Nelson advocated what he called The New Passing, which he described as a discussion about
the merits of black converts playing up their non-black heritage in the Muslim world and/or marrying non-blacks in order to lighten up their families and (hopefully) allowing their children to “pass” into non-blackness to avoid racism
Who benefits from this? And how? Arab and other nonblack Muslims benefit from having “Don’t call me Black, I’m Just A Muslim“ African-American men marrying their daughters and thereby transferring whatever wealth they can accumulate into these nonblack families.
Arab and other nonblack Muslims also benefit because the type of African-American Muslim who seeks recognition as Something Other Than Black will typically also want to heavily support Arab causes, such as the Palestinian struggle. So, whatever resources that formerly Black Muslim might have contributed to help alleviate the suffering of other African-American Blacks will typically be diverted to support Palestinians, Saudis, Pakistanis, Kashmiris, and any other nonblack category of Muslims one might name.
WHAT DO BLACK PARENTS GAIN FROM RAISING “DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME BLACK, I’M SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLACK” CHILDREN?
Why would any Black person raise a half-Black child who does not in any way identify with Black people, who has zero loyalty to other Black people, and who in many cases hates Black people? Well, enslaved women were generally powerless to create any other outcome. Other than the monetary support the nonblack-Black Creole concubines in New Orleans gained from having their less and less Black children, I don’t see much material gain for the Black parents of these Something Other Than Black folks. Instead, the primary payoffs seem to be emotional ones. The “don’t you dare call my child Black, s/he’s biracial” Black parents are trying to attach themselves to the perceived superior status of their child’s nonblack ancestry. They are hoping to vicariously share in their child’s Something Other Than Black status.
Having a self-proclaimed nonblack child makes these sort of Black people feel like they’re different, special and apart from “typical” Blacks. In their own eyes, it raises them above other Black people. It helps them feel a little less Black themselves, which makes them feel better about themselves. This type of Black parent (like Tiger Woods’ father) will often start emphasizing whatever distant nonblack heritage they might have. This is when they get hot and heavy with the “I’m 1/8 Cherokee, 1/27th Irish, 1/58th German, and . . . umm, I’m too dark to deny it, so I guess I have to say . . . also Black” sort of talk.
This emotional payoff of getting to feel a little less Black is the reason many African-American Black parents are hysterical about trying to have their children recognized as Something Other Thank Black. They don’t care if their children are anti-Black racists like Tiger Woods. Self-respecting African-American Black folks could always tell that Tiger Woods is an anti-Black racist. Self-respecting Black folks aren’t oblivious when self-proclaimed Something Other Than Blacks are anti-Black racists. But, for those who are confused, I’ll mention a few quotes from Mr. Woods. These are some “jokes” that he told in 1997 while in the presence of a reporter.
“What I can’t figure out,” Tiger Woods asks Vincent, the limo driver, “is why so may good-looking women hang around baseball and basketball. Is it because, you know, people always say that, like, black guys have big d*cks?”
. . . “He puts the tips of his expensive shoes together, and he rubs them up and down against each other. ‘What’s this?’ he asks the women, who do not know the answer. ‘It’s a black guy taking off his condom,’ Tiger explains.”
See here for more about that.
The Black parents who are seeking Something Other Than Black status for their children don’t care about any of this. They’re happy to commit political suicide. They will usually celebrate any and all biracials, including the biracials who are anti-Black racists. They also don’t care if fragmenting the Black voting public causes the disempowerment of African-American Black people such as themselves. None of these considerations outweigh the emotional gratification they get from vicariously experiencing a state of non-blackness through their children. That’s their cost-benefit ratio, and it works for them.
NURTURING “PLEASE LET ME BE SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLACK” ATTITUDES CAN BE DANGEROUS TO THE REMAINING BLACKS—THE PARSLEY MASSACRE
Nurturing Please Let Me Be Something Other Than Black attitudes can be dangerous to the remaining Black-Blacks. Sometimes it can end up costing lives. There’s a long history of enmity between the two countries that share the same island of Hispaniola, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are numerous historical reasons for that enmity. For some background, check out an article from Time Magazine titled, Haiti and the Dominican Republic: A Tale of Two Countries.
One can’t ignore the racial dimension of this enmity. Whatever else is going on, one country consists of mostly racially Black people who recognize that they’re Black (Haiti). On the other side, you have a country of mostly racially Black people who prefer to believe that they’re Something Other Than Black (the Dominican Republic). You know the nonblack-Black folks in question are some rabid racists when a White magazine like Time describes them as:
The lighter-skinned Dominicans looked down on the darker-skinned Haitians: in 1965, even as the Dominican Republic was embroiled in civil war, Haitians were working in Dominican fields and not the other way around.
In early October of 1937, between 15,000 and 35,000 Haitian men, women and children were massacred in the span of five days by order of Dominican President Rafael Trujillo. He wanted to ethnically cleanse the borderlands between the two countries.
It’s called The Parsley Massacre because the Dominican soldiers who killed the Haitian immigrants used parsley as a test to distinguish Haitians from Dominicans. The Dominican soldiers would hold up some parsley and ask the people they encountered to identify it. French and Haitian Creole-speaking Haitians who did not trill the “r” in the Spanish word for parsley (“perejil”) were hacked to death with machetes. The need for resorting to a linguistic test like this lets you know that many Dominicans look the same as Haitians. In other words, they’re racially Black.
This highlights another danger to remaining Blacks created by nurturing Please Let Me Be Something Other Than Black mindsets: Nobody ever challenges self-proclaimed biracials and other nonblack-Blacks to clean up the anti-Black racism in their ranks.
NURTURING “PLEASE LET ME BE SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLACK” ATTITUDES CAN BE DANGEROUS TO THE REMAINING BLACKS—UNLIKE MAINSTREAM WHITE AMERICANS, SELF-PROCLAIMED BIRACIALS AND OTHER NONBLACK-BLACKS NEVER DO ANY SELF-POLICING OF THE ANTI-BLACK RACISM IN THEIR RANKS
One thing I notice about the self-proclaimed biracials and other nonblack-Blacks is that they don’t do any self-policing of the anti-Black racists among their own ranks. Unlike mainstream White American society, the biracials have never really acknowledged any anti-Black racism on their part. They’ve never done anything to clean it up. Similar to the self-described Good Black Men™ who never do anything about the not-good Black men, the self-described as Blameless In Oppressing Black People™ biracials never do anything about the racist, oppressive ones.
And African-American Black folks never require self-proclaimed biracials and other nonblack-Blacks to do anything about the anti-Black racists in their ranks. I’m continually amazed at how stupid so many African-American Blacks are. Nothing seems to register to us as anti-Black racism and hatred unless it’s coming from a Caucasian person of fully European descent. That’s crazy. Like I said before, a lot of these biracials are anti-Black racists in exactly the same way as poor Whites whose self-esteem is based on stepping on Blacks. Their self-respect is measured by distance from the Black-Blacks. And the quickest way for them to feel distant from Black-Blacks is by doing things to harm us. But we’re too stupid to see or sense the hatred underlying their frantic efforts to be recognized as Anything But Black. In part, because many of us are still dealing with unresolved childhood and teenage resentments against other African-American Black people in general.
MANY AFRICAN-AMERICAN BLACKS WHO WANT TO BE SOMETHING OTHER THAN BLACK ARE STILL WORKING THROUGH CHILDHOOD AND TEENAGE ISSUES OF BEING TEASED BY OTHER AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN, OR BY THE “ACTING BLACK” NUTS
From their comments, I get the feeling that significant numbers of the people who are attracted to the “let’s drop the ‘Black’ label” idea are still working through childhood issues of being teased by other African-American children, or by the “acting Black” nuts in high school. So they hate anything and everything that is unapologetically African-American and Black-identified. It’s the same pattern of life-long resentment that you hear from a number of embittered Black males who are still angry that they weren’t as popular as the athletes when they were in high school. Ten, fifteen, twenty years later these men are still carrying around their high-school-era envy of athletes and thugs.
And so it is with many of these “let’s drop the ‘Black’ label” folks who were teased by other Black children ten, fifteen, twenty or more years ago . These people can’t let it go. You can tell from what they’re saying that those wounds are still just as fresh as they were during childhood.
KHADIJA’S PRAGMATIC BOTTOM LINE: IF YOU NEED TO DISCARD YOUR AFRICAN-AMERICAN BLACK ETHNIC IDENTITY IN ORDER TO HAVE A SEMBLANCE OF PEACE OF MIND, THEN DO SO
More real talk: According to my individual cost-benefit analysis, this idea of trying to be recognized as Something Other Than Black does not bring any benefit to me. So, it’s not an attractive idea to me. Based on my appearance, I could never fool anyone into thinking I was White. But I suppose, if I wanted to, I could start tripping like The Formerly Known Artist Prince and deceive others into thinking I was so-called biracial instead of a light-skinned Black woman. If I wanted to, I could start emphasizing my distant White ancestry. I just don’t see anything to be gained by doing that.
I’m not as uptight as some Black folks are about various other Blacks opting out of their African-American Black identity. This is because I don’t plan on remaining vulnerable to what I expect to be the negative effects of their mass opt-out. I don’t plan on being stuck in the US; I expect to get a 2nd passport.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t care what others choose to do with their identities. I figure that anybody who’s unhealthy enough to need to discard their heritage in order to cope with life, should do so. I’m not going to berate them. I’m also not going to cooperate with the lies they tell themselves and others. I just hope the thoughts expressed in this post help you make some thoughtful, informed choices as you consider this idea.
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