As it is about to be 2018 I want us to do better. I want us to bring some things into the new year and some things I am going to need us to leave behind. I want us to get some things right. One of those things is that is the conflation of Black to always mean African-American.
I am Black but I am not African-American. I am Black West Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Latinx, Afro-Latinx, Taina. All of these things I am, but I’m not African-American.
This year, as I was blessed to be in more activist and primarily Black spaces. What I noticed was the use of Black to always mean African-American. I remember clearly going to a conference and the speaker started off by saying said “All of us as Black people” which was fine. The room was filled with 99% Black people. Then somewhere down the speech they said, “We all know what it is to be an African-American in America” and I thought to myself, “Ummm I mean kinda, but not really fam”.
There is nothing wrong with being African-American. My husband is; as are our two children. But the distinction is important. While I am Black and no one could tell me any different, I just am not African-American. My relationship to America and American identity isn’t and wasn’t built the same as my African-American husband. There are things that are 100% part of the African-American history, storytelling and experience. And there are things that are part of the Black experience. As a Black person, I can understand the Black experience, but it would be a lie to say I can understand the African-American one. Each of us has traditions, memories, and issues in our communities that are specific to those spaces. And then we have issues and memories and similarities that transcend those specificities and affect us all as Black people. As a global Black family.
I often thing of DACA and what is happening with immigration as a perfect example of something that effects Black people; though not African-Americans specifically. I know Black people from the Global Diaspora who are hugely impacted by DACA. They are here undocumented or have family members who are. This is a Black issue; though it may not be an African-American issue. Those Black people who are living in real fear of being deported are still Black, but their interaction with DACA is way different than someone of African-American descent.
This meme goes around Twitter by Hotep Twitter often. I hate this meme. It’s right and wrong all at the same time; like most of the super Hoteps I know.
Yes, we are all Black and most of us know that. However, where that boat stopped, what white people you got sold to, and where you were, does make a difference to who we have become. Haitians, Black Latinx people, Black South Americans, we have all created and lived through histories that are each unique and ours. Yes, only chance put our ancestors in these locations. But that doesn’t change the effects that it made on each of our histories, perspectives, and how we live today.
I know when people see me they don’t see all of my complex identities. They see a Black Muslim woman; and that’s perfectly fine. But don’t ask me to set aside my identities to pick up an identity that isn’t mine. I can’t speak what it means to be an African-American. I can speak on what it means to be Black. A Black woman, A Black mom, A Black academic. But I can also speak on what it means to have great-grand parents and grandparents who immigrated. What it means to have family who have thick accents and who called home someplace in the Caribbean. I can talk about my childhood growing up with food that other people had never heard of or seen before. I can talk about what it means to not really fit in your identities because you’re not Puerto Rican enough or Vincentian enough. I can talk about those things. All of those things make up my Blackness. All of this is me. However I can’t (and shouldn’t) talk about what it means being African-American.
Therefore, I think it’s time for all of us to be really intentional. The next time you use Black, mean Black. Either mean all of us: Black Brazilians, Black Mexicans, Black Trinidadians, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Guineans, the Diaspora. Mean the global family or don’t use Black at all.
(Note: In this article African-American means people who have been generationally in this country since slavery/etc. African/American is used for those who may have immigrated “recently” and can trace their families directly to an African Nation.)