If SHE’s Black, then I’m…?

This is Danzy Senna. She wrote the book I’m reading in Diversity in Black America this week, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? She is the daughter of a White mother and a dark-skinned Black father, but the interesting roulette wheel of genetics bestowed her with phenotypical Whiteness. But get this–she identifies SOLELY as Black.

And okay, let me start this by saying that on an intellectual level, I recognize and applaud every individual’s ability to adopt whatever identity best suits them, whatever fulfills them spiritually and emotionally and feels like it “fits”. I applaud those who are brave enough to behave unexpectedly and go against the status quo. I am a strong proponent of the idea that everyone should be who and what they are, wholly and truly and shamelessly and unapologetically.

But for all my fancy talk, I find it…difficult to accept this woman as a Black woman. Hell, even as a woman of color. People are going to look at her and SEE White, and while it isn’t fair to expect her to be defined solely by the identity others impose on her…I am struggling to find a way to look at her and see that we are members of the same group (well, more than just being American women). If we are both Black women, then…

what do all Black people possibly share?

Part of me is firmly invested in this idea that we must all share something. There must be something that binds us all together. I know that race is a social construction–trust me, NOTHING proves that to me as much as the very existence of this woman–but it’s still IMPORTANT to me. But, as a friend pointed out to me today, it’s only important to me BECAUSE of the history of discrimination and racism that has plagued my people and other racialized groups. Had there never been racism, there would likely be no concept of race. (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?) So is caring about race just validating the historical White man’s claims? Am I hurting us with my pride? Holding myself back with my self-identification? 

No, I can’t believe any of that. It would label Blackness as problematic, and that’s something I’ll never ever co-sign. But a bandwagon I may have to get on is that Blackness is, above all else, a mentality. I think that for my sanity and so that everybody can’t just go around claiming it, it is a mentality informed and passed on by at least some genealogical and familial background–you can’t just pick up a book about Black peoples and start to identify with any sort of validity. But as I already believe that people of color are generally more likely to understand the world in certain ways, it’s not an impossibly far leap from there to Blackness is a state of being. 

The problem, though, is states of being can’t be objectively measured or quantified. You won’t recognize someone’s state of being as they walk down the street. You will recognize the color of a person’s skin and try to typify them as such, but I think I need to accept that race runs a whole lot deeper than that. (I had a similar such moment a few weeks ago where I counted one more Black person than I thought was on the Sprint Football team, and he turned out to be Indian.) Because she identifies entirely as a Black woman and associates most dominantly with Black communities, is she not in some ways “more Black” than many Blacks (not that I really like to put Blackness on a spectrum, but for the purposes of this thought experiment…)?

So as I embark on a small journey to acceptance, I will say this: Danzy Senna is a Black woman. I am a Black woman. My African friends on campus may or may not be Black women, depending on how global your definition of Blackness is and how they self-identify. There is diversity in Black America.

Advertisements

About alaiyo0685

I'm a kind of quirky, pretty stubborn, way too opinionated, twenty-something, intellectual, introspective, queer, Black, female, in a polyamorous relationship, and this is where I try to figure out my life.

2 thoughts on “If SHE’s Black, then I’m…?

  1. i think that, because race is a social construction, it very much depends on other people's perceptions. like you said, theoretically, i support people's rights to self-determination, but in practice, it's hard to believe that this woman is ever going to have the same experiences as a dark-skinned Black person, just because the visual aspect of people's judgments is so strong. it's one of the reasons that i started identifying as white and not hispanic: technically speaking, sure i'm cuban (my dad was born in Cuba as were my mom's parents). but i didn't grow up speaking spanish, i didn't interact with hispanic culture, and most of all, i don't look hispanic; i'm never going to have the day-to-day experiences that a dark-skinned hispanic person has in this kyriarchy. i look white, so people treat me like i'm white.* while it's tempting to say that blackness is a mentality, to be able to validate this woman's self-identification, i feel like Black people are "more likely to understand the world in certain ways" because the world is more likely to affect *them* in certain ways, and the shorthand by which the world decides how to treat them is the color of their skin.*this post (from a blog that's more generally amazing, focusing on sexism and rape and anti-racism), especially the last few paragraphs, describes how i feel about my self-identification: https://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2008/10/21/a-thing-that-bothers-me-sometimes/

  2. i think that, because race is a social construction, it very much depends on other people's perceptions. like you said, theoretically, i support people's rights to self-determination, but in practice, it's hard to believe that this woman is ever going to have the same experiences as a dark-skinned Black person, just because the visual aspect of people's judgments is so strong. it's one of the reasons that i started identifying as white and not hispanic: technically speaking, sure i'm cuban (my dad was born in Cuba as were my mom's parents). but i didn't grow up speaking spanish, i didn't interact with hispanic culture, and most of all, i don't look hispanic; i'm never going to have the day-to-day experiences that a dark-skinned hispanic person has in this kyriarchy. i look white, so people treat me like i'm white.* while it's tempting to say that blackness is a mentality, to be able to validate this woman's self-identification, i feel like Black people are "more likely to understand the world in certain ways" because the world is more likely to affect *them* in certain ways, and the shorthand by which the world decides how to treat them is the color of their skin.*this post (from a blog that's more generally amazing, focusing on sexism and rape and anti-racism), especially the last few paragraphs, describes how i feel about my self-identification: https://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2008/10/21/a-thing-that-bothers-me-sometimes/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s