Barack Obama. Kamala Harris. Shirley Chisholm. Harry Belafonte. Sidney Poitier. Here we have a former president, a senator and a former congressperson, as well as two well-known actors and civil rights activists – with two things in common – they are all first-generation Americans from either one or both immigrant parents and they all share the same skin color as defined by White Americans in the United States. These human beings are "People of Color." They are Black Americans. Each has had varying experiences with Blackness as expressed by the culture of white America and I can reasonably assume had at least one micro aggressive act of individual, behavioral bigotry thrown into each of their lives at some point in their lives.
The discussion of Kamala Harris as a viable “Black” candidate for president in 2020 is the impetus for this essay. However, notwithstanding the obvious juxtaposition between progressive, liberal and center political leanings, this essay is not about politics nor is it about Kamala in particular. This essay is about Blackness in America. It is about what it means to be Black to Black people and what it means to be Black to white people. It is about whether Black African American Descendants of the Enslavement (AADOE, AADOS, or DOS) are even relevant in the definition of Blackness today in favor of “People of Color.” It is about whether they should be considered a distinct and differentiated demographic, or has white supremacy succeeded in bleaching its revisionist history so that color alone and not the lineage created by the Enslavement constitutes Blackness in the 21st century and beyond.
If you identify as Black and are reading this, ask yourself how you personally consider yourself as being “Black” in America. Ask yourself how you and your ancestors came to be here in this country. Were your ancestors enslaved in the United States or does your family have generational ties to another country with which you can identify? It is important to understand that being “enslaved” for purposes of this essay means enslaved only in the United States. Why? This will hopefully become clear later.
Consider the following: AADOE are the only people with no generational roots other than those of enslaved people from an entire continent, since they were stolen from different geographical regions of Africa and brought to the U.S. This means while other enslaved people in this hemisphere were able to adopt the countries where they were brought to and have generational lineage in those geographical regions, e.g., Jamaicans from Jamaica, Haitians from Haiti, etc., the U.S. is the only generational reference for AADOE lineage other than the entire continent of Africa, thus the identification of “African” and “American.”
Despite the colorization issues inherent in these countries for obvious reasons of white supremacy, colorization in those countries is not the purpose of this essay. The point is, when people immigrate to the U.S. from other countries, they still own their original “nationality,” and “ethnicity.” In fact, their children also inherit this “lineage.” If you research any of the people mentioned in the beginning of this essay, you would undoubtedly read about their “roots.” Indeed, if you ask any nonwhite person with roots in another country “what” they are, they will tell you their nationality BEFORE their association with being Americans and certainly before referencing color, if at all. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not.
What IS wrong, however, is the nature of white supremacy and racism in the United States and what it has done and continues to do to the roots of AADOE. People with their roots in the Enslavement have had to endure a relentlessly destructive legacy and enormous stigma of being lazy, no account, criminal – with just about every negative connotation of “dark” and decrepit that could be placed on a singular group of people. Who in their right minds sharing the same skin color with AADOE would want to come to this country and identify with the stigma associated with White America’s definition of Blackness? Would you?
I know that there are many people reading this essay right now who can recall instances where nonwhite people in this country have distanced themselves from the “unique” circumstance of Blackness as it is expressed by the U.S. and Americans. There are precious few who will acknowledge true kinship with the experience of being an “African American,” as that term is used to describe AADOE, even as they share almost every hue from cream to the darkest brown of “Black” color as white America describes.
Considering the fact that Black people in the U.S. were defined by most white people as nonhuman since the Enslavement, it is no wonder that even after it ended, laws were created, and a system of subjugation was put in place for these same people and for their descendants on the basis of “race.” Of course, at that time, color was the most convenient tool for differentiation of the races, of which there were only two: Black and white. All these generations later, the ravages of racism and discrimination created for these specific people are still apparent today.
It is no coincidence that white America has been fighting with itself deciding which way to deal with its “Black problem.” It has for generations been wrestling on either side of the spectrum of racism from annihilation to assimilation. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was enacted, due in large part to the quota system in place, which prior to the 1960s saw more than half of the immigrants into the U.S. coming from Europe. By the turn of the century, the number of immigrants from Africa, Mexico and Asia had increased substantially. It is also no coincidence that nationality, ethnicity and indeed "race," has been poured into the proverbial pot of chocolate in America, stirred and melted together, so that now, at least to white America, race as associated with the color Black is all the same whether it actually is or not.
This means the spectrum of racism leaned toward assimilation instead of annihilation, although the latter faction steadily paced itself toward the place where AADOE find themselves today. Indeed, the reason for the issue of immigration today is one that actually began with the advent of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. What's more, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is either credited or blamed for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, depending on which side of the racist spectrum white people live on.
But what has happened to AADOE in the decades since the Civil Rights movement, the paradigm shift of colorblind post racialism, the advent of “diversity” and “people of color?”
The paradigm shift of colorblind post racialism, the advent of “diversity” and the most recent “people of color” identifier, illustrated to the nation that the assimilation side of the system of racism had “won,” so to speak. In the meantime, while “whiteness” had disappeared in favor of “nude,” “natural” “neutral,” and “normal,” there was also a cataclysmic change occurring with regard to “Blackness” that no one noticed. The distinction of AADOE having a unique stake in the U.S. by virtue of its roots was an impediment to White America (think reparations), therefore a concerted effort by the white supremacists who favored assimilation, with the tacit support of those who favored annihilation, began the policy of erasing any claim by AADOE in the future. The goal was to eliminate specific identity as ADDOE and essentially rendering “color,” or “Blackness” alone in this case, as the sole determinate of “racial” distinction in the U.S., and any generational, ancestral roots in the Enslavement would then gradually lose any importance, eventually disappearing into obscurity from U.S. history, as no more than a glancing footnote.
According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in its 2010 Census report:
“Black or African American” refers to a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. The Black racial category includes people who marked the “Black, African Americans or Negro” checkbox. It also includes respondents who reported entries such as African American; Sub-Saharan African entries, such as Kenyan and Nigerian; and Afro-Caribbean entries, such as Haitian and Jamaican. Sub-Saharan African entries are classified as Black or African American with the exception of Sudanese and Cape Verdean because of their complex, historical heritage. North African entries are classified as White, as OMB defines White as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. The terms “Black” and “Black or African American” are used interchangeably. Moreover, “…it is recognized that the categories of the race question include race and national origin or sociocultural groups." 1
What does all this mean?
It means that in America, as far as White America is concerned, Black and African American are associated with skin color no matter the nationality or ethnicity and are used interchangeably. It does not matter whether you were descended from U.S. enslavement. It means that AADOE no longer have a unique and differentiated history and that having been enslaved by the U.S. has no bearing on any specific reparative or accountability of the government. Consider it the genocide without murder of an entire group of people by erasing their unique historic lineage in the U.S. by virtue of their definition of the color Black. It means no one will speak for AADOE because there is no longer anything in this country which makes their demographic any different from others who live within the system of racism and who are nonwhite, even as the very system in place today was designed specifically for AADOE all those generations ago before “Black” became the sole determinate of race in the U.S.
This is why Kamala Harris can identify and associate with Black or African American even though she is Indian and Jamaican, and why Barack Obama can identify as Black or African American even though his mother is white and his father is Kenyan from the continent of Africa – because since at least 2010, “The terms “Black” and “Black or African American” are used interchangeably,” and includes “African American; Sub-Saharan African entries, such as Kenyan and Nigerian; and Afro-Caribbean entries, such as Haitian and Jamaican. Sub-Saharan African entries are classified as Black or African American with the exception of Sudanese and Cape Verdean because of their complex, historical heritage. North African entries are classified as White, as OMB defines White as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
White America knows what it is doing. Within the struggle of their constant push and tug on the spectrum of annihilation and assimilation, the creation of “Diversity” for them means including “People of Color.” However, when you understand that their identifier color has been tweaked through immigration, they can still exclude the very people for whom the entire racist system was designed to deny opportunity and still satisfy their “diversity” requirement.
Therefore, you should think critically about where the roots of Blackness in the U.S. originated and where they live in the U.S. today. Are we really all the same because white America has decided that we are all “Black,” and African American despite our roots, or do our roots afford us more or less of a unique identification?
And what is to become of African American descendants of the Enslavement in a country where the majority of people who identify as Black today are not even descendants of U.S. enslavement and therefore have no generational, ancestral legacy or tie? Should the descendants of the Enslavement just quietly disappear into the fabric of all “People of Color” as white America would have them do, without any specific representation as to their own, unique roots? Are we to believe that immigration is a bad thing? No. Does this mean that we should separate ourselves from all other nonwhite people in this country? No. Does it mean that AADOE should allow their future descendants to disappear into obscurity as time and generations cull the demographic? No. Does this mean that it is important for AADOE to have a stake in what is ultimately going to affect their lives moving forward? Yes.
These are questions that need answers, but the answers must come from each, individual “Black” soul.
1 The Black Population 2010 – 2010 Census Briefs