As someone who is visually Black, as in there is no question when you look at me, I have never had an issue with my race and for a long time could not understand the issue others had with their own. Admittedly growing up I lived in a Black, White and Hispanic world. I didn’t have much deviation from that for most of my younger years. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I became aware of the many distinctions within the Black race and even the “visually Black” people who didn’t identify as Black; as well as those who were offended if you referred to them as such, which offended me as someone who saw nothing wrong and everything of which to be proud.
My concept of race is not associated with how I view myself. My concept of race (as race is a social construct and really has nothing to do with who you are as a person or the truly important components – family, culture, ethnicity, location, etc.) has to do with how I am aware I am viewed by others. I have found race is an important construct in manoeuvring through how I am treated and viewed by others, how others initially try to understand me, what others initially expect from me – generally, I am aware of race as how others make an attempt to categorise me (at least initially). It has the ability to dictate which jobs I am offered, how I am treated in certain parts of the world and in the US and what others think I am capable of. I am aware of race as a category affiliated with assumptions, some of which I definitely need to overcome in order to get certain places I may want to be.
As the title of this piece suggests, maybe I am oversimplifying the concept of race. What I am sure of is the fact that very few still think of race the way it was originally intended. I choose to understand race in the way that it was intended, a classification system. It is designed to put me into a box so that someone else can use it to either grant me or deny me an opportunity. It has nothing to do with my breeding, my upbringing, my character or personality. I am quite aware that at some point I have been a “token”; not in the sense that I betray or deny who I am. But I am not going to deny that someone looked at me, my grades, my education and thought “she fills the quota”. Am I proud of it? No. Did I take advantage of their ignorance? Absolutely, and I am not ashamed of that.
Integration meant concessions would be made. We are trading things for access. I listen to the arguments against affirmative action, but understand, even though you trade things for access, that does not mean the things (knowledge, experience) you gain from that access cannot be used to create access elsewhere (back within the community) for others. I think this is where we fall down. We go out, accept the access that is offered and use it to give ourselves a better standing in life without looking back. We wrongly adopt this Eurocentric view that everyone has to (and can) make their own way. As a Black woman, I know that’s wrong. Some who have made it did it through programs designed to give people access; programs that may not continue. Some who have made it did so because they knew someone, and so on and so forth.
Communities that thrive do so because they reinvest in their communities. There is no such thing as Black wealth. We have a wealthy and rich heritage but this is being degraded by the increasingly minimalist attitude people – even some of our own – have toward our history. I read somewhere, and totally agree, that slavery is not our history, slavery interrupted our history. These days, the closest things we have to legacies are generations of frats and sorors. We are not leaving our children houses and impeccable family reputations. We are not leaving them the ability to ensure our communal wealth continues. We are not even giving them the tools to build communal wealth.
There is all this talk about what it means to be Black. In the United States of America, what it means to be Black is that your skin contains melanin. Race is used a social construct that basically tells the so called majority that you’re not one of us. These days what people consider Black or Black culture is an amalgamation of urban culture, rap culture, hip hop culture, results of generational poverty and industrialization, the fallout of gentrification and ghetto, the aftermath of integration…
Now, what it means to be a person of colour is too varied and intricate to define. I think so many say they don’t want to be categorised or placed into the boxes created by others but then they worry themselves to death about what it means to either be in that box or out of it. What is wrong with being a person of colour? It has broad reaching implications. It has a huge remit. It incorporates so many singular yet interwoven components that it is in itself beautiful. It acquires a range of ethnicities and expresses the sentiment that although we are different we are bonded by a singular physical component and recognise this gives a ground on which we can begin conversing.
Race = each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics. In physical anthropology the term is one of the three general racial classifications of humans — Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid (or Congoid)
Culture = the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society
Ethnicity = relating to or characteristic of a human group having racial, religious, linguistic, and certain other traits in common
If we are to overcome the issues of race – self-inflicted and otherwise – within our own communities we need to change how we refer to ourselves. In terms of the pseudo majority, they will classify us for their own purposes – if you choose to be classified. You can classify yourself however you like using their classification system. And, they will view you however they choose. However, “at home” we can be who we are. We need to change the language we use to describe ourselves.
I know some will read this and vehemently disagree with me. Some will read this and think that I am absolutely oversimplifying the concept of race. But this is my opinion. This is how I see the situation in relation to my own life and how my ideal might look. I am an individual in my own right as well as a member of a prestigious group.
I am a woman of colour.