Monday, May 25, 2009

Black Like Me

Warning: this post is long and political. But I majored in political science, and some folk might not like what I have to say. Tough.
Me, toasted to a rich chawclit brown and squeezed into a tiny t-shirt I bought in Salvador da Bahia. I did not want this picture taken.

Day before yesterday, I posted this as my status on Facebook:
Acabo de caminar del gimnasio. Hoy es un día brillante de sol tropical. Y bajo de ese sol iluminante, se me dió cuenta que yo era el único negro/moreno/mulato en la calle que no era obrero, vigilante, mulero, vendedor de cocadas o aguacate, o muchacho de servicio. ¿Qué vaina tan desesperante?

I just walked home from the gym. Today is bright with tropical sun. And under that illuminating sun, I noticed that I was the only black/African-descended guy in the street who wasn't a construction worker, security guard, mule driver, coconut treat or avocado seller, or servant boy. How depressing!

An immediate response from a FB friend:
Interesante, pero qué negro? Vos no lo sos o no pareces.

Interesting, but what do you mean black? You're not, or you don't look it.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been plagued by the eternal question, "What are you?" I won't lie and say that I've always had a solid racial identity, but for most of my 31 years, I've lived life as a black American male, albeit one of obvious mixed phenotype. Growing up in the American South, my identity was never questioned by whites, only by the other blacks I went to school with, often pointing to my curly 'fro and calling to me in faux-Spanish, "catada-potodo" and all that jazz. My mother, herself the recipient of much vitriol from her darker-skinned peers during her years in segregated schools and at an HBCU in the late 50s, told me how she had often been mistaken for white during the pale winter months of her youth. But despite her recent European ancestry and light-bright-damn-near complexion, she was born in 1938, under the equalizing rule of hypodescent in the United States, with the requisite single drop which once and forever placed her on the dark side of the color line. And it was under the same culture and climate of that rule that I was born in 1977, reddish-brown, darkening in summer, with features sitting halfway between two continents.

That did not mean, however, that I was raised culturally confused à la Diff'rent Strokes. I grew up in a black neighborhood, in a black Baptist church, in a black family with members "from coal to cream." My youth was always a little bit Cosby, a little bit Good Times, a dash of 227, and a whole lot of Amen. I was surrounded by institutions of black middle-class success, not quite Atlanta-level entrepreneurial luxury, but the fruits of striving, college-educated Southerners who marched in high-stepping bands and continued to serve the Greek letter organizations they joined back when it meant something; and always within a ten minute drive of the 'hood and the cheap Chinese take-outs and barbecue joints. I was a member of a black Boy Scout troupe and learned about W.E.B. Du Bois and Madam C.J. Walker and Charles Drew as a part of the McKnight Achievers Honor Society. Curly hair notwithstanding (receding, actually), I grew up black. And I know what it means to be followed around in stores, to attend a high school with 50s-era library books, and to be harassed by the police.

I've come to reconcile my phenotype the way I reconcile my interests, that to be black—physically, culturally, emotionally, spiritually, politically—is not to be monolithic. That we are, in every range, dimension, and manifestation imaginable. It took me going through stages of emotional maturity, attending a mostly-black high school (where I was hated for being a fat Oreo nerd) and an HBCU (where it was finally cool to be smart, diverse, and culturally inquisitive), and traveling through the realms of my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, most notably Latin America (where I initially had the naive expectation that people who looked like me also thought like me).

"Why you wanna be a black nigger?"
I was asked that once by a Colombian woman who had lived for a while in the United States and couldn't get her translation right; Spanish subtitles for American movies and TV shows give "negro" for both black and nigger. Though I'm sure she was educated in the proper derogatory terminology during her time in New York. Anyway, her question was prompted by my response to her original query of whether or not I was Latino (that catch-all term which incorporates Spanish-speaking cultures from Mexico to Argentina and truly means absolutely nothing outside of an American cultural context, and even then...), something often asked of me. My answer is always either negro americano, afro-americano, or a mix of the two. More often than not, this answer is never accepted at face value, hence her perplexity at why I would choose to identify myself as something A) seemingly unpleasant, judging by her tone and facial expression, and B) apparently untrue.

See, in Latin America, the race issue is less, pardon the pun, black and white than it is in the US. The Spaniards and Portuguese, already a mixed lot, had much less reluctance than their British counterparts in planting their seeds in foreign soil, so to speak. In fact, an entire range of interesting names developed to accompany the corresponding array of skin tones, hair textures, and facial dimensions, the most prevalent being mestizo (white/indigenous), mulato (white/black), and zambo (black/indigenous). Along with this color gradation came social value, rated according to your position: African slaves, invariably, at the bottom. Underlying this system was the exact opposite idea of hypodescent—one drop of any other blood kept you from being black (though not necessarily enslaved), and some places even allowed enterprising mixed-bloods to purchase whiteness (don't worry, folks, I've included a bibliography below). Wrap all this in the typical European colonial social matrix that privileged whiteness above all else (repeated throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia), and you can understand why no one in their right mind would actually choose to be black in Latin America if they didn't have to. Why would anyone want to identify with a group of people who, still in 2009, maintain the lowest position on the social ladder in the countries where they are greatest in number, and whose color is a euphemism for poor, dirty, and ugly? Where a Spanish word for cute (mono) is default for blond and where one "German" or "Spanish" grandfather is enough for people who look like Denzel or Oprah to claim, "I'm not black, I'm mulatto," as if that were a badge of honor (of course, there are no Colombian Oprahs or Denzels because maybe they don't want to be on TV or in movies here in Colombia, right?).

It's this same lack of identification that keeps the colonial structure in place, because there's not enough unity or anger to incite any type of focused paradigm shift reminiscent of the American Civil Rights Movement. The segregation here is most certainly economic, but that functions as a proxy for race when the majority of the lower-class, with no access to adequate education or jobs, is indigenous or of quite obvious African-descent, and the number in the upper classes is negligible (of course, everybody always seems to know the one exception that proves the rule). And people here tend to think that their mixed-raced societies indicate the lack of racism; I'ma tell you that fucking your dusky, voluptuous maid (or paying her to deflower your 15-year-old son) is not the same as legitimate socioeconomic mobility.

100% Negro
Here in Colombia, I've been called racist for even talking about race, and for pointing out inequalities that had theretofore gone unnoticed. I've been called divisive and off-putting for being proud of my own heritage by people who think nothing of invoking their Italian or German or Norwegian ancestry. I even had a fellow professor once ask, exasperatedly, if we had to talk about race on a Friday afternoon just after I discovered a student had included "nigger" in an academic paper! (Must be nice to have the luxury of scheduling life's inconveniences, you douche). Still, people can call me any number of things, but it doesn't reduce the ingrained responsibility I feel for educating and raising the consciousness of my own people as well as others.

When asked why I care so much, I answer that it is because of sheer luck and cosmic grace that my ancestors' slave ship docked in Charleston and not Cartagena, Santo Domingo, Kingston, or Salvador. Because the United States proves over and over, despite severe and deeply-ingrained problems, that it is, in my opinion, the only country in the hemisphere where people of African descent have a decent shot at unfettered success regardless of skin tone, last name, foreign parentage, or bank account balance (Canadians, correct me if I'm wrong). And like the Afro-Colombians, Dominicans, Jamaicans, and some 90 million Brazilians, to name a precious few, I am the descendant of Africans brought over to the Americas as property, speak a European language, and have been acculturated to European mores and values. The language may be different, but the history and heritage unite us. That is why I care about what becomes of a bright 12-year-old black kid who has to stop school to sell chewing gum on the side of the road in Barranquilla to help his mom pay rent. That is why I care about what becomes of the 20-somethings who should be studying law instead of selling their bodies to the highest bidder at the clubs in Rio. That is why I care about what becomes of the Caracas street pharmacist with the business acumen of a Fortune 500 executive. Because under a different set of circumstances, they all could have been me.

There are varying levels of black consciousness throughout Latin America, with Cuba leading the pack and Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela at least showing up to the conversation. But there is still a huge dearth in the number of socioeconomically successful Afro-Latinos/negros/morenos/mulatos/whateverthehellyouwannacallem to serve as examples for younger generations to aspire to, or for non-blacks to see as proof of a people's abilities. So I willingly accept it as my duty to be an example to my people in the Diaspora, regardless of language or nationality, that black does not have to mean poor and uneducated and ugly (or shoe-leather dark).

My aim is not to pit groups of people against each other; it is to instill sufficient pride in a marginalized and victimized group of people to have them demand better for themselves from themselves, their governments, and their communities. To insist on equal opportunities for quality education and employment, and to see their broad features, kinky-curly hair, and dark skin as signs of resilience and fortitude, not something deficient and needing to be "improved" with each successive generation. I'm young, gifted, and black. I'm black and beautiful. I'm black and full of flavor. I'm black and proud (and uppity to boot!). And I want them to know what it means to be black like me.


Aside from the four years I've spent living in and traveling through Latin America, there are a few pivotal books that have deepened my understanding of the people and their societies:

Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press USA, 2004.

Benítez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Newest printing - Wilder Publications, 2008. (Originally published, 1903).

Freyre, Gilberto. The Masters and the Slaves (Casa-Grande e Senzala): a Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. New York: Random House, 2000. (Originally published, 1933).

Robinson, Eugene. Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race. New York: Free Press, 1999.

Whitten, Norman E. and Arlene Torres (Eds.). Blackness in Latin America & the Caribbean: Social Dynamics and Cultural Transformations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Fly Brother
welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment below and/or click


Fly Girl said...

Amen Bro. I have often been exasperated when trying to deal with Latin American racial politics. The perspective is different but not the resulting circumstances. I spent nearly an hour explaining to coffee plantation owners in Brazil that no, Thomas Jefferson is not considered a black president and no, he and Sally did not have a fairytale love story. She was his slave and so were her children. History gets so twisted depending on who is telling it. I'm so glad you're setting the record straight in Colombia, no matter how uncomfortable it is for them. That's the second time I've heard about Repeating Islands this week, I will be ordering it soon. Thanks for the excellent post.

Anonymous said...

1. You didn't want that picture taken? Why not? I like it!

2. Wow, you too? As a kid, other black people also questioned my "blackness", if that makes any sense, lol.

3. Heck, even as an adult, people still question it! All I have to do is open my mouth and (some) black people either laugh or comment negatively on my, "white girl" English. (My mother wanted us to speak proper English!) Ironically, my "white girl" English landed me this job, so who's laughing now? Hahahaha!

4. You know what? Now I'm inspired to write a post of my own on this topic! Ok, maybe not the exact same topic, but something similar? Stay tuned...

5. It's refreshing to see a talented, educated brother doing his duty to promote awareness in Latin America to people of African descent! Keep it up!

Brandie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandie said...

All I can say is AMEN!

Don't you wish sometimes that people would just GET it, without you having to get all "racial" about it!?!?! It's amazing all the things people choose to turn a blind eye towards.

Uzo said...

"Because under a different set of circumstances, they all could have been me."

I remind myself of that everyday -- that I could be the blind person spending my days going from car to car asking for change at some busy intersection somewhere in Africa or not know where my next meal is coming from -- that it is not race or skin tone or hair texture that is different, only circumstances.

Thanks for the post Fly Brother.

Ms. Wooden Shoes said...

Great post. I've got a Panamanian friend who grew up in New York, who is constantly screaming "Latina". I mentioned to my husband once that she's proud of her heritage and he looked at me and said "it's modern day passing".

Always claiming to be unfamiliar with black culture, food, etc. But on the flip side, she's all about Oprah and the Obamas. She wouldn't mind being black like them

Pa Ibou said...

Thank you Brother, this was a GREAT post!

indecisivenappy said...

This was a really great post. It's nice to see that you are so inclusive because so many black people like to divide themselves by nationality.

SDG said...

And the Congregation said...AMEN! You've broken it down beautifully. I am a Pan Africanist and I believe the "struggles" of Black folk around the world are connected.

Carlos said...

I am neither Black nor Uppity and I honestly could care less where the hell you´re from. All I care about, and please excuse the creamy cheesiness, is the quality of human being you are. The most important thing in life are the people you touch and the lives that touch you back. This is the essence of every human being. So dude, I hear you and praise you for getting the word out on the hipocrisy that fills the city of Barranquilla!! Peace.....Tobias T

Nikita said...

Fly Brother!
Awesome post! (and might I add that you are quite handsome in that photo)! :-)

With that out of the way, as a Black Canadian, I would argue that Black folk in Canada do indeed have a chance at success (at least as much as yall do in the States, if not more). Canada is still a YOUNG country and, due to massive waves of immigration in the late 60s and all through the 1970s, home to tons of immigrants from all over the world-which means that (at least in the major urban centres here: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa) usually people of colour FAR outnumber whites(Toronto has the distinction of being the world's "most multicultural city" in the world (even over London and Miami)! This means that increasingly, more often than not, your boss at work, your child's teacher at school, and other people in various positions of responsibility are Black (from the Caribbean or Africa) or Asian (from the South and/or East), or alternatively are White people who are new arrivals to the country (there are a lot of Polish and other Eastern Europeans here) and don't even speak English as a first language (heck, now that I think about it, EVERYBODY is an immigrant here! You would be hard pressed, at least in Toronto, to find someone of any race, whose family has been in Canada for more than two or three generations). I feel that this "opening of doors", so to speak, breeds more tolerance, which bodes well for dark-skinneded folks like myself, lol.

Let us not forget that the vast majority of Black Canadians (whether because they are immigrants or because they are first-generation Canadian, like me), don't have the same history of slavery that American or even Latin American Blacks do, because we aren't "indigenous" to the region. Also remember that the cost of a university education is fairly inexpensive here when compared to the States (about $5000 CDN a year)so mostly everyone, White, Black, or Yellow, can afford to get a degree (or secure a loan to pay for one)...

On a side note, most young Black Canadians "talk White" (whatever that is supposed to mean!) since we were born here and the only dose of American "Ebonics" we get is from T.V. or from our annual shopping trips across the border to NYC or D.C. (you Americans always get the best deals on clothes and shoes, everything is so expensive here and taxed up the wazoo)!!

A Cuban In London said...

What a fab post. Read twice and then still maybe one more time...

By the way, you look like the dancers I've got in my new header, Cuban, they are.

You touch upon so many points, bro, that I don't even know where to start.

In Cuba we forged a cultural identity that included everyone and this was the case from 1868 (the beginning of our Independence War) until now. This brought benefits and disadvantages. The former can be summed up in the fact that we don't use hyphens when we talk about ourselves. We're Cuban, pure and simple. The latter limited black people's potential.

When I was little my nicknames ranged from 'negrito' to 'jabao' (a light-skinned perosnw tih yellow Afro hair, and sometimes Chinese-like, eyes. Go figure. Also called 'narra'). Nowadays, I am black in the UK and 'mulato' in Cuba.

Piece of advice for you, mate. When you travel around Latin America, go with the flow. We have our own mindset, especially the little group that is made up of Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Venezuelans. No wonder our accents are so similar.

And as for the word 'Latino' in an English-speaking context, no, it's a no-go for me, man. Can't put up with it. I say Latin and when I speak Spanish I say Latino(a).

Many thanks for this fantastic post. And I loved that T-shirt!

Greetings from London.

Cynthia said...

Kudos, FB!
Love the post. I was talking to my friend about something similar. I might write a post about this and link to you (I hope you don't mind). It gave me a lot of food for thought.

Also, there is nothing "uppity" about speaking your personal truth. Do the damn thing. :)

Random_Personette said...

That was insanely powerful.You have such a way with words.If you ever get around to writing your book(s) I'd buy it.I am mentally reeling right now,I may have to read the post again.But I feel it is so important for black people to challenge other black people into being more than the world has led us to believe that we are capable of being.

On a side note:I have to disagree with Cuban in Londons comment 'Piece of advice for you, mate. When you travel around Latin America, go with the flow. We have our own mindset..'.Clearly there is something wrong with that mindset that keeps being passed on from generation to generation.Sometimes going with the flow isn't possible,sometimes you have to play the role of Iconoclast or dissident regardless of disrupting the status quo.


p.s You are a very photogenic man.

Fly Brother said...

Wow, folks! I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the positive commentary this post has garnered. Thanks to everyone for reading this tome and for taking the time to comment. Sometimes a brother feels like he's out on the road alone, so the support and understanding is greatly appreciated.

Fly Girl: You'll love The Repeating Island. Yes, it's main function is literary criticism, but it offers tremendous insight into the major cultural currents that run through the entire region - from DC to SP, and it's academic without losing its humor and appeal.

Juanita: I just felt I kind of looked goofy. I feel you on the whole "white talk" thing. Looking forward to your post!

Brandie: Like Fly Girl said, it is crazy exasperating. Even worse, when sometimes you don't have the energy or feel outnumbered, or momentarily inarticulate.

Uzo: Shoe on the other foot like a mug!

Wooden Shoes: Reminds me of a Dominican girl I knew who always liked to dip a toe in without taking the plunge. She was from NYC, but always partied in Atlanta because she liked the extra attention she got from the brothers there for being "exotic."

Pa Ibou: Thanks, man! 'Preciate it!

Indecisivenappy: Honestly, it's something about us that I can't stand. When I lived in Miami, I heard "I am not black, I am 'aitian," or Trini or Jamaican...I'm like, dude, you think that makes a bit of difference to the police or the judge?

SDG: Ditto! (In fact, I just taught Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism last month in history class).

Carlos: You uppity as hell, bruh! But that's why I love ya, "witcho La'innazz."

Nikita: Many, many thanks for the insight from north of the border. You're not the first person who's extolled the virtues of Canada to me. It's just that damn weather...I'm a hotboy, son of the sun; I needs me some HEAT! On the "Ebonics" tip, I remember seeing the folks on "106 & Park" clowning this gangsta rapper from Toronto. They were like, "yeh...the Toronto projects...right, shawty." Thanks for the photo compliment. ;-)

Cubano: Thanks for stopping through. I'm sure Cuba, like Brazil, has fifty words for a burnt-sienna-curly-reddish-brown-haired-but-not-too-curly-green-almond-eyed-5.9-inch-bony-lanky-half-Indonesian-adolescent, "mesticoloquemao oscuro." I think I know what you mean about 'going with the flow,' since even regions within different countries can assign you a new identity. I've adjusted my vocabulary and material accordingly: in Colombia, Afro-descendant sounds fine, where in Brazil, it smacks of ultra-PCness (my friends there just prefer negro...or negão). I'll see if I can get you a shirt next time I'm in Bahia. ;)

Cynthia: No problem linking me. I need to check out your spot. Thanks for commenting!

Personette: Thank you for sharing with me your reaction to my writing. Until the money starts rolling in, I have only my inner motivation (which can be fleeting) and comments like these that keep pen to pad (or finger to keyboard). I do agree with you that the prevailing mindset in the Caribbean is much more harmful than helpful (hence my post), but what I get from Cubano's comment is the need for a certain pragmatism when dealing with cross-cultural identity issues. I had to learn how to tailor my interactions with people in a way that wouldn't immediately turn them off with my typical American "straightforwardness" (for lack of a better term). I could be right as rain, but if no one is listening because of my confrontational delivery, what good is my message? It took me a long while and many, many strenuous conversations to get to the point where I understood how to broach the subject here in Colombia and how to get people to conceptualize something that they have mostly never considered in any serious way. It has definitely been a learning experience for all involved. Thanks for the photo compliment ;-). I like your name, BTW.

DMae said...

Hi there from an old white woman in the middle of Alaska.

I attended college in Cartagena, back in the previous millennium, and as a small town Alasakan girl where everyone was a white miner/logger, I was overwhelmed with the variety of skin colors available to the human race.

Skin color means nothing; cultural pressures form the world as we know it and hence, who we are.

I loved your post. You are a gifted writer. I feel I saw the world through your eyes, which is quite an accomplishment. You have managed to not only inform me, but to touch me as well.

I am looking forward to reading more of your posts.

PS you are one handsome young man. I know this young woman......

Nonna said...

to go along with DMae-I am a 61 year old white woman who grew up in the Boston area. I loved your post. You are a gifted writer, don't give it up. I must give congratulations to your parents for doing such a good job bringing you up and to all the other adults that helped you on the way. Bravo
(Romephotoblogs' mother)

Fly Brother said...

DMae and Nonna: Thank you, ladies, for commenting on this post. They say the mark of a good writer is the ability to elicit a feeling of understanding from readers who don't necessarily share the writer's experience, so I sincerely appreciate the compliments.

DMae: How on God's green did you ever get from Alaska to Cartagena?! Talk about culture shock! I'd love to hear more about that.

Nonna: I will most certainly pass on the congrats to the parental units for their child-rearing; all in all, I can say that I've indeed been blessed on that account. I'm also a big mama's boy, so please feel at home, Romephotoblog's mom!

Java Bean Rush said...

What a beautiful and interesting post!

What a wonderful thing to do for the African Diaspora.

You say some wouldn' want to read what you have to say. Why wouldn't they?

Fly Brother said...

Java: Thank you for your visit and compliment. Unfortunately, there are many, many people in both Latin America and the US who believe that I'm paranoid, or that the problem "just isn't as big as [I] make it out to be." Those same people would argue that the death of a young black police officer at the hands of another officer last week in New York was not an example of institutionalized racism, but only a mere mistake in judgment. Yet there always seems to be mistakes in judgment when it pertains to innocent and/or unarmed black men being shot and killed by law enforcement. The people who would argue that my viewpoint, as a potential victim of police "misjudgment," is overly-emotional and therefore invalid are the types of people who wouldn't like what I wrote. Sadly, I come across these types of people often.

Again, thanks for stopping by, and no, I don't know who initiated the Lemonade Stand Award. ;-)

Interesting blog, BTW.

Divalocity said...

I'm glad that you have highlighted this because many people don't even know what goes on in these countries.

They think that they have it bad here in this country they have no earthly idea what the African descendents of the Diaspora go through in the South American countries and even Puerto Rico.

After Slavery it's as if the people were discarded and left to fend for themselves. In some places, the people are not even counted in the census.

Panama is not as bad as the others but it does have it's share of problems, namely because Colon is the poorest city.

You’re right when you said being an African descendent does not mean that one should be poor and under educated. My heart aches when I think about my people and want to help. said...

Hey there!

I am linking to this post in my side bar!!

I hope you don't mind!!

Check out my post, "On Being Black and Other" and also the post on "Examining The De-Black Tactic".

I have touched upon many issues that you have raised in this eloquent piece!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Java Bean Rush said...

Thanks for the response, Fly Bro. :)

Fly Brother said...

Divalocity: Thanks for your comment. Are you Panamanian? The economic disparity between Colon and the capital is ridiculous! I think I might try and get over there this month and take some photos. Also, thank you for knowing history! That's part of the problem, people get ahistorical when it comes to past wrongs and how they influence the present.

Lisa Trompetera: Thanks for linking me. I tried looking for the two posts you mentioned on the blog, but didn't have enough time to thoroughly investigate (you have a lot of text!). I'll check it out again this weekend...after I finish grading all these final exams.

Java: NP :-)

Kurly Bella said...

great read. i just stumbled upon your blog today.

having lived in paraguy for a summer with my sister, i can relate all too well. my experiences far exceeded my lectures in africana studies. but i was prepared.

outside of being thought of automatically as portugese - which i didn't mind - hell, i was the only black person around for miles (kinda reminded me of how it was when i taught swimming in vermont one summer during college) and i obviously came from brazil. well, that was until i opened my mouth and my words fell out in choppy speed-learning-as-i-go-spanish (though i should say this is the best way to learn!) mixed in with my sweet ga tea hidden drawl that you really don't catch unless, i'm:

1: bout to go off
2: am nervous

my sister - paraguyan, on a visit cross da boda, didn't get why i pointed out that the blacks had disappeared from argentina. her: what blacks? but she was soon schooled.

and her friends - overly excited to meet her sister, were all inviting and even welcomed me with a nice n bomb during casual conversations - the whole nigger and negro are interchangeable. i remember thinking, how did i just go from sip-sip-pass the mate and scraping mango off of my shoes (the yard was filled with rotting fruit balls - no one touches anything when the maid is off) to giving a mini lecture on how it's not cool to say nigger.

i laugh under my breath when i hear people, esp south americans themselves say there is no racism and that brazil has "racial democracy" and believes in "class over racism." there is this fake air of kumbaya. le sigh...i'm pretty sure burning your records of slavery and having 98247127 categories of race/color with the lowest level being black COULD possibly ease the burden of forgetting about having the ships drop off most of the human chattle on your shores...but i know you don't need me to repeat what you already know.

i was told so often that i was not black when i lived there that i wanted a shirt that said BLACK GIRL, so your tee shirt resonated with me. :o) though i guess this could have been a great time to claim my .2570% blackfoot great-aunt on my mama's side and talk about my "good hair" that curls up if the sun hits it at the right angle if i was ignant like that.

but in the end, i enjoyed my stay. i miss it so much. in my past life i lived as some expat woman i'm sure. now i'm left to my musings as a producer painting my creative dreams on screen and blogging about moisturizing kinky, curly, nappy hair. or hurr.

but if i had my way, i'd only be an american living in america for 6 months out the year.

best to you.

kwerekwere said...

well, we talk almost every day, so you know my opinion about this. eventually, maybe next week, i will get around to making my own blog post to stand in response to this one.

the short version is -- being a dark family with "money" was a major hassle while growing up in various parts of latin america. while money does whiten, a man is almost expected to marry lighter and a single woman of means is just not heard of.

i've already told you about some of the fun things that doña juana has had to put up with, and it's for that reason that i chose to spend as much of my adult life as possible in africa and not latin america. these days, i've been tempted to return to brazil, but there's no way that i could do it with school-age children in tow. the whole "white is right" thing that is so ingrained throughout latin america is just too much brainwashing to undo. while my son does get it in the posh school he attends, the greater society doesn't worship whiteness to the extent that latin american cultures [note the plural] do. maybe i'll go back when he finishes high school.

back when my portuguese was very good, i still wouldn't let go of various bits of my upbringing. i lived in posto 6, but then moved to a bigger pad in leblon, both of which were problematic for me in that i was too dark to be there after dark, unaccompanied. i would have shouting matches with the desk jockeys over which elevator i was supposed to use or whether i was supposed to be there in the first place [and i had that same problem in my building when i moved to cape town 5 years ago], and when dealing with the police, i *only* spoke in english. being a "visiting american", in the eyes of the police, made all of the melanin just wash away.

i hated to do that, but since the police in brazil are known for just shooting brothers for sport, i just did it.

but the whole "money whitens" thing: annoying. american passports also whiten [well, everywhere but puerto rico], but i think you've figured that part out as well.

kwerekwere said...

kurly bella:

i had that "what up nigger" moment when i lived in senegal. actually, i just ignored the guy, until it was made quite clear that he was talking to me.

my other half, who was very clearly enjoying this exchange [and my absolute refusal to engage with this fool], finally stepped in.

and *then* i went off, in a combination of english, french, wolof, and criulo, just to make sure this fewl understood.

sadly, i have to deal with the same thing in south africa. when my son says "nigger" i ask him if it's okay if i called him "kaffir" or "hotnot". and then he says "but that's what say"... to which i say, well, do you want to sound like you're from a township? [answer: no]. then don't say that word. [oh, okay. i get it.]

Sara said...

"I'm young, gifted, and black. I'm black and beautiful. I'm black and full of flavor. I'm black and proud (and uppity to boot!). And I want them to know what it means to be black like me."

Thank you! I read your post (and, no, it wasn't too long) and nodded my head in agreement about so many things. I am African-American in the very real sense--I was born on the East Coast to African parents. A good majority of my family comes from Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. I also speak fluent Spanish, so it tends to throw native Spanish speakers for a loop when they ask me first, where I was born, and second, where my family is from (not to toot my horn, but my Spanish accent is like that! :)).

I have a friend who's Peruvian. I remember at the beginning of summer last year, a group of us was at a Latin music festival in Baltimore. For whatever reason, as we were sitting on the grass, taking a break from the salsa dancing, my friend took his tan arm and placed it against my dark chocolate arm. The first words out of my mouth were, "It's special...and you'll never reach this shade." We both laughed. But, I do find that I tend to embrace my chocolate-y goodness (ha!) more when I'm with my Latino (sorry) friends. After reading your post, I wonder if that is my subconscious way of saying to them, "Yes, I am black and beautiful, and I love being black and beautiful."

In any case, I was most recently watching some rap "music video" DVD from Liberia, and I was disheartened when I saw that that MC had christened himself "DJ Nigger" or some such nonsense. It became apparent to me that even our brothers and sister on the mainland have no idea. And why would they? They don't have the same history as American black folk; the word doesn't appear to have the same history, most especially if they're using the word because they've heard it in rap songs. (And let me digress: I'm not going to rage against rap...or hip-hop. I grew up listening to it, and 'til this day, I still have trouble reconciling the fact that I enjoy it with the reality that there are many a song with degrading lyrics directed at black women, or women in general.)

Ana said...

Fly Brother:

You mentioned something about Colón, please excuse me for taking the liberty to inform you about its history.

The city of Colón in its hey day was called "La Tazita de Oro".This was right after the Panama Canal was built and there was a burgeoning black middle and affluent class in Colón and Panamá city and Bocas del Toro.

Colon's dynamic economy was the result of blacks who owned businesses and a largely Panama Canal workforce.
Blessed with a largely educated middle class and an affluent black population , Colón was far more advanced than the capital city of Panamá.

In the past , the majority Panamanian mestizo population resided in the rural areas or what we refer to as "el interior".

The manners and culture of the largely mestizo group was never any match to Panama's black population even up to today. They are still considered "country people".

Most black Panamanians living across the former Panama Canal Zone area , Colon and Panamá city were urbane in their taste, sophistication, sense of style and fashion, manners,education and culture.

Black people helped build the Panama Canal. Black Panamanians were and are still a vital force in the function and maintenance of the Panama Canal.

With the signing of the Torrijos/ Carter Treaty in 1977, and the pull out of the American goverernment, Colon's economic artery was shut down and many black Panamanians left to reside in the United States.The city suffered a complete economic death.
The city of Colon is suffering today because most of its most educated population have left to either live in Panamá city or to reside in the United States.

Today Colón has been left to fester.It is suffering from total "abandono" from the Panamanian authorities.And race is a factor.

Crime is rampant, especially with the large influx of Colombian "narco traficantes" and "narco dólares".The youth there are plain lost and confused.

Black Panamanians have been coming to the United States from as far back as the ealy 1900's and our numbers have incresased even more from the 1950's .
Blacks in Panamá live all across the Republic, but there are really three black provinces in Panama:Bocas del Toro, Colón and Darien.

Panamá despite being a majority Mestizo country, black Panamanians have excelled in prctically every aspect of Panamanian life. In medicine,law,education,politics,trade union, journalism,engineering,architecture,fashion, etc..

I think one of the biggest mistake black Panamanians did was leaving in large numbers. "Pero el tiempo dirá" Time will tell.

Today,one of the saddest thing I have noticed about black people throughout the Diaspora is a complete ignorance of one another.


I like your blog and I love Colombia, especially Cartagena, Barranquilla, Cali,Bogotá, Medellín and Choco province.

Some interesting Panamanian sites:

the author is Panamanian and she resides in Switzerland. This is ablog geared towards Afro latinas and afro Latinos and Spanish speaking people.


Monaga said...

Found your blog recently and just came across this post. I am African American and live in the Dominican Republic. As I was reading your post I could not help but constantly nod my head in agreement.

Great blog!

Mr. Martin said...

This is truly really a great blog ! For those of you who are interested a documentary is soon airing on television entitled "Afro Latinos: La Historia Que Nunca Nos Contaron". For more information go to

Afro Latinos is a very complex topic especially of course when going into the racial and ethnic dynamics of Blackness and Hispanicity/Hispanicness in the United States.

This in return goes to show that truly Hispanic/Latino is a racist and bias term to discriminate on someone primarily on the bases of the language and backing it up with physical features which would not be considered white to typical prexisting Anglo White Population.

This all stems from the idea of English and Spanish never liking each other. The English were always thought they were better than the Spaniards. In turn, the English would plunder and fuck with the Spanish colonies and taking them and destroying the success of the Spaniards.

For example, Anglo black West Indians who immigrated or migrated to Latin American countries such as Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, Venezuela, and Costa Rica for example had to deal with racism and cultural discrimination primarily on the basis that they came from an Anglo or English speaking background and cultural orientation in addition to their blackness.

The same thing is happening to this group of people we call Hispanic/Latinos that arrive here in our United States Of America.

If a white looking or white Latin American person comes here we would assume that person to be white of course. They could have blond hair and blue eyes.

But then when we hear them speak Spanish and admire and adhere to the typical Hispanic culture and speak Spanish and that they are Roman Catholic, we all of a sudden hear an accent in that White Latino/a that was never heard before and we then say oh well now that person does look kind of Hispanic/Latino.

Like don't people realize that if these people are Spanish/Hispanic/Latino then by virtue we are English/Anglo/North American.

Like it makes no sense !

Frenchie said...

well seems like there isn't much left for me to add...:( Great post. You touched upon several issues that should be discussed not only amongst Hispanics, but the rest of the African diaspora in Francophone and English speaking countries. Yes, slavery and colonialism did a number on us but lets not forget the images of black pride and solidarity that have also come from the African Diaspora.