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Who is Black in America? | Soledad O’Brien

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 13:00 p.m. EDT, 30 August 2013

Model: Trudyann DucanUNITED STATES – On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” America has been forced to reconfront the issue of ‘colorism’ in our society. I am purposely not using the word race because there is only one race, the human race.

However, in America and South Africa in particular, and in other countries to a lesser extent, the issue of color is complex and problematic, and is often the sole measure by which people are defined and relegated to particular groups in society.

I have faced the issue of color and acceptance most of my life. Most recently after the birth of my son whose father is not American, but German; I am constantly reminded of how limited the options are for people of mixed or biracial heritage when confronted with documents and other census gathering transactions that seek to categorize people by race.

With regard to organizations requesting the race of my son, I choose to enter ‘other’ or write in ‘biracial.’ In reviewing his records, I have often been chagrined to discover that an institution has subsequently change his assignation to Latino. In fact, most people who interact with my son and view him as Latino, emphasize their perception by pronouncing his name with Spanish accentuation, often changing it to ‘Javier’ though it is clearly not written as such.

This perception remains in force until they meet me, and then his race is changed to African-American which is wholly inaccurate. This lack of clarity and inability to fit neatly into ‘white’ or ‘black’ culture has caused my son to question me about why he is so light and I am brown? Why his hair is straight and mine is curly?

And at one point he identified himself as ‘white,’ until I emphasized the fact that he is biracial like President Barak Obama, and that he should not only be proud of his dual heritage, but should correct people who mistakenly believe him to be otherwise.

People often believe that I am Ethiopian or Somalian, and because my father though born in America has lived in Africa for the past 40-years, and I spent my childhood there, the cultural nuances of these societies resonate with me more than Black American culture.

As you can see from the video below, my struggle and that of my son is all too familiar to many people of color in this country where black and white cultures are perceived as monolithic, thus stifling any acknowledgment of the multitude of diversity that exists within either group, as well as in America as a whole.

I would encourage you to watch the video below which is both provocative and informative. Hopefully, it will provide greater insight into ‘colorism’ and the concomitant expression of racism in America.

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About Ayanna Nahmias

Ayanna Nahmias was interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide program titled 'The State We’re In,' about her life in Africa and her determination to transcend her past. She started the Nahmias Cipher Report to provide information to readers about life in emerging economies, and to provide alternative insight into the challenges faced by women and children living in these countries. The blog features stories from around the world to inspire other people to persevere and triumph in the face of great adversity. She blogs about current events in emerging economies, international politics, human rights abuses, women’s rights and child advocacy.

View all posts by Ayanna Nahmias

5 Comments on “Who is Black in America? | Soledad O’Brien”

  1. Sidney Davis Says:

    So it would appear in the opinion of some then we have graduated from the “one drop” rule enshrined in American culture and in some state laws. People may want to run away from their African heritage because the “one drop” rule in America is still pretty much in effect. How one thinks of ones self in this regard dictates one’s life choices and opportunities. One may pass for white and enjoy the amenities of “white privilege” all they want, but once word gets out that you have “one drop” the game is over. They get what we call a “nig*r wake-up call.”

    Reply

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