You’re Not Really Black!

Whilst browing the selections of blogs that I usually read to keep up to date on what’s going on in the cyberworld, I came across a post by a black blogger about why he wasn’t sure whether or not he should vote for Obama.

I was with him until I got to this:

“I’d argue that Bill Clinton is blacker than Obama on any day!!! Blackness is an experience not a skin color. Whiteness is an experience not a skin color. Blackness and Whiteness only exists in America. Both are used to describe a uniquely American experience. That’s why when people come here from other countries they gravitate to becoming either Whiter or Blacker with White meaning that you identify with the white American experience more than you identify with black American experience.

Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. Bill grew up in Arkansas. Now you tell me, who experienced (saw) the realities of being Black or White in America. The white kid from Arkansas saw racism first hand even if it was to his own benefit. Obama on the other hand was raised by a white mother in Hawaii. Mother’s generally shield their sons as much as possible. So how much racism do you really think Obama saw (experienced) living with his white mother in Hawaii and Indonesia?”

I’m baffled… and confused. What does he mean that ‘blackness is an experience not a skin colour’? Your experience as a black person is instrinsically linked to your skin colour. How can you separate the two?

You’d think that those who insist on making judgements on other people’s ‘blackness’ have insider knowledge about some kind of scale by which you can objectively measure racial identity. According to them your life’s experiences are the qualifications which determine your entry to the black world. The worse your experiences, the more black you are. Such people usually say things like “you haven’t experienced/done [insert stereotype] so you are not really black”, whatever that means. I have had this said to me a few times. Apparently, my private school education, well-spoken English accent, Cambridge University degree and having parents who are professionals all disqualify me from really being black. ‘Luckily’, I am given an extra 10 points on the blackness scale for having lived on a council estate in inner city Peckham. Sad really, isn’t it.

I guess what such people are trying to say is that my life experiences more closely resemble (their narrow view of) the experiences of a white person as opposed to (their narrow minded view of) the experiences of a black person. However, inherent in that point of view are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions. I think we should know by now in 2008 that not all black people are badly off, and not all white people are hugely successful. Or maybe not.

We all know that fundamentally, race is a social construct and that skin colour in itself means nothing apart from the meaning that others ascribe to it. But unfortunately that is precisely where race has become a solid, and real, entity in society: my skin colour is given a meaning by others and this has an effect upon me and my interaction in the world. That is a fact regardless of where I live, where I went to school or how I speak. Every black person has a black experience by virtue of being viewed by the world as black. You cannot take this away from them.

As far as I’m concerned, nobody has the right to deny another person their racial identification. I am black because I say I am (well actually, because the world says I am) and that’s where that conversation should end.


5 thoughts on “You’re Not Really Black!

  1. Again…yes. I don’t know how Europe handles race/socioeconomic issues, but in American, Socioeconomic disparities so closely align with Race that many people think the two problems is one and the same. Plus, poor many Black people do have very narrow views of the world – literally and figuratively. They are so completely insularlized by their poverty, neighborhood, or whatever that they think that is all the world is. Black = Poor, Gully, Dysfunctional, Loud-talking, card-playing, hustling, ebonic-speaking’ Black = Victim of Society.

    Yes, I agree. It is sad.

  2. Yes, you are my soul sister i am black well spoken live in the home counties with my black parents and get ignorant people Black and white chastise me for not talking in a South london accent or in ebonics

  3. Urban Scientist – interesting comment regarding the apparent link between socioeconomics and race. I think the same can be said about Europe to a large degree too. It’s bad enough for others to think negatively of black people, but it’s worse when we associate ourselves with negativity. Our own pyschology is something we need to deal with and turn around.

  4. I for one, think it is ridiculous say that Black is only a color. At the same time I find truth in the statement, ‘Color is a description, not a definition.’ So we should not limit people to their appearances, but at the same time with Color there is often a link to culture. A problem arises when we generalize to a population based on a sampling of people we have met, or perhaps worse, programs that we have seen on television. Perhaps, the more appropriate question to ask is whether people identify with a culture or ethnic group; not everyone does, or sometimes not the one that people would match them up to.

    “Blackness and Whiteness only exists in America. Both are used to describe a uniquely American experience.”

    What planet is Mr.DeBurr living on? Perhaps, what he intended to say is that we discuss it in America! Maybe, the words Black and White are a bit limiting & polarizing, unless it suggest a continuum on which all other people groups are described.

    He should read The Racial Contract by Charles Mills and watch this

  5. I live in the US and come from a country where black and white are just colors. It is not race and it is no defining of a person. I can see the tremendous contrast with the US, and I would not doubt England…

    I had never been defined by the color of my skin until I moved to the US. Here you have to take sides with a racial group, or a side is taken for you.

    I understand why some black people from other countries don’t want to be associated with African Americans, because there is a stigma and bad stereotypes attached to that group.

    It is sad that these stereotypes keep being reinforced by media, and by members of the African American community as well.

    I think blackness is influenced by culture.

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