Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Black History Rant


This month is February and so that means it's African-American History Month in the United States. I have many things to say about this time of year and I figured why not tell you guys.

For the past 500 years, the history of the Western Hemisphere has been a clash of different peoples from different places. Some from Europe (by curiosity, or for more riches, or to spread the word of God), some from Africa (most likely by force), and some that were already here (Indians, or as I like to call them, Indigenous people). Years later, as a result of these clashes, countries were formed and more different people started to come. Some from China and Japan (they went to places like Cuba and Brazil). Some from India (most of them went to Jamaica and Guyana), and even more Europeans (like Italians and Germans that went to Argentina and the United States).

Presently, we live in a world in which race is paramount to describing not only how you look, but who you are as a person. This bothers me to no end because even if the assumption of me is a positive one, it's just an assumption, not a fact. Basing the personality or characteristics of a person on their physical features is poor judgement and leaves the observer less knowledgeable of that individual than before they even saw them.

Recently, the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy, became the first African-American to lead his team to the Super Bowl and win the big game. This is great and all, however, when does Tony Dungy stop being African and start being called just "American"? When does someone stop being Chinese-American and can be simply called "American". Not to be cynical, but why do those that identify themselves as "white" are the only ones allowed to be non-hyphenated "Americans".

What we need is a re-evaluation of who we are as a people and how we all got here (Americans) so that we can properly name ourselves. Though I was born in America, the culture I grew up in was Guyanese, yet in some applcations, the only option I have is to be "black" or "African-American". The reality is that my skin is not black, I've never been to Africa, and the only thing American about me is my birth. It's not enough to say "I'm Black" because it is vague. There are "black" (I call them, "people of African descent") people in Columbia, Haiti, and Brazil. And though they do share a common ancestor, "black" people from these countries do not share the same culture. They don't even speak the same language!

So where am I going with this? What am I trying to say? I think it's important to know where you come from. I also believe that it is necessary to look at the past objectively, and not blame present-day descendants of people who have done bad things to your ancestors in the past. Let's all not allow diversity to be a dividing factor, but a means to mutual respect, genuine interest in each other's cultures, and a learning experience for all involved.

So, what do you guys think? I would really like to know. And don't be afraid to not agree with me on this one. I figured that this blog was the perfect place to get my message out there.


gray la gran said...

oooh, touchy subject, especially 'cause i'm a white girl (gasp!). but, i'm not pure white ... i'm a bit hispanic and native american, some english, french, and lithuanian. i think of myself as the perfect american mutt, a fair representation of that great american melting pot. my sister has 7 children (from misc. fathers, but that's a whole other post!), all of mixed races and origins. my parents speak english, my grandparents speak spanish and lithuanian, and my aunt speaks filipino. i believe heritage is important, but shouldn't strictly define who you are or what you're capable of. if you feel you are judged on your appearance, then it's your responsibility to change that person's mind, and show them WHO you are.
i like to think of americans as americans, and not all the subsets that have been defined and outlined.
... but perhaps that's unrealistic and optimistic?

del said...

Well, the whole Af.-Am. label came up because some "black" people didn't like the term "black" & wanted to identify with where their ancestors came from. I think after that, we started seeing more hyphenated labels. It doesn't bother me...although I've also never been to Africa, I identify as African-American, black, gets more complex for me because my mom is Asian, but I rarely say that I'm biracial. That's just TMI & I tend to be more private.

Valerie said...

My honest take? I think Black History Month is an effort on the part of a bunch of white people to atone for past and present stupidity. I don't think it works, and I don't like, in our increasingly brown world, trying to "figure out" what race someone is. But I am glad it causes some focus on important people who often got written out of the history books.

When my great-aunt was young, she had trouble riding trains in the South. She'd go to the "white" car and be told to go to the "black" car, where the attendant would send her back to the "white" car. That side of the family is Turkish Jewish (Sephardic), of dark skin and hair, and apparently "black-looking" features. I am half-Sephardic and half-Ashkenazic (from Russia and Lithuania), and I look like a white girl, but my ethnicity and culture are complex. My family is only recently in the US, and my culture doesn't fit neatly into the "standard white" US culture. But I bet I'm far from rare in that respect.

I'm much more interested in learning about each person's individual background and cultural traits than I am about lumping them together. But I do think correcting the history books, and drawing people's attention to the ongoing problem of racism, is wise.

So, mixed feelings, I guess! Interesting post, Kelly.

Deborah said...

History is segregated in the US. The reason we have a black history month is because the achievements of blacks are still excluded from mainstream history. Howard Zinn tries to correct this with his People's history books. Randall Robinson is trying to correct this by opening the discussion about how certain prominant institutions acquired their power and money - mostly by the spoils of slavery and robbery of resources...

If ALL PEOPLE's histories are taught, I believe, we would have less conflicted and bigoted people walking around. We are remain ignorant about history and closed minded about how history is used as propaganda.