Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You're black??

 A question I don't remember hearing in my childhood and teen years.  My racial identity was pretty obvious to those around me, especially when our family lived in the midwestern United States, where I endured racial prejudice throughout my middle school years. And it didn't matter how light my skin and eyes were. Although, there was a time during fourth and fifth grade when we still lived on the West Coast that some of the other black kids I knew teased me for being light and how they could see my veins.  Crazy kids.

Fast forward to my twenties. I had since become a hairdresser, revelling in the many colorful options available to a girl working in that industry. I loved wearing extensions in varying shades, lengths and textures.  But mostly blond and on the long side, often to my waist. (I'm sure there's issues with that. lol)

So, as a result, strangers and/or clients were often surprised when race came up  in our conversations and they discovered that I was black.  "Wow, you're really light", or "I thought you were Polynesian or something", were statements I heard more than once.  Often people just assumed I was "mixed".  Of course, other blacks knew what I was. I think it's kind of an unwritten code that we know our "own" no matter how light skinned or how many European facial features someone may have.  There's always that little something that we pick up on.

But it's kind of funny, because over the years I learned that America may be the only country that has what has been known as the "one drop" rule, which basically states that if an individual is known to have any African ancestry, no matter how minimal, they are automatically considered black.
The book Who Is Black? by Floyd James Davis is an excellent work on the subject.

I got to thinking about all this today while reading a great blog post at Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care, about a PBS program that aired back in 2003 called Race, the Power of an Illusion.

There's also an interesting exercise on the site called "Sorting People."  It's a graphic where you place photos of various people in the racial categories you think they fit.  I got very few of them right, by the way.
I even miscategorized a couple of the black people.  So much for knowing my own!