Tuesday, September 13, 2011
What is "Black"?
I know that the issue of race is something that I touch on at least a few times a year, but that's because there is so little CONVERSATION about it. There is a lot of commenting made about it - Funkyman included. However, the cool thing about a blog is that you can leave comments and have a dialogue or the writing can spark an actual conversation with a live person. Therefore, submitted for your approval . . .
What is Black?
Last night, Miss Universe 2011 was crowned, and as you can see in the picture, this woman is not someone anyone would consider to be Caucasian. She is what we would today consider to be a "person of color" which is the politically correct way of saying "not Caucasian." She is from the country of Angola, speaks Portuguese, and may have never even visited America. While I noted to myself that someone won the competition that doesn't fall into the usual stereotype, I am surprised to read the online discussion surrounding her "race." Here are the three things I read that disturb me.
1. Some stories report the victory and highlight that Miss Universe crowns a black woman
2. Some haters think she won just because she was black
3. Some people are responding vehemently - "She's not black!"
This is where I pause. I will try not to scream.
OK, I'm ready.
To the reporters:
So the Black Miss Universe? This woman won because she WON. While it may be important to some (me included) to mark certain occasions as milestones in racial equality (Vanessa Williams won Miss America 27 years ago - let's keep it moving), WHY CAN'T SHE JUST BE THE BEST CONTESTANT? This does not have to be a part of the newstory. Anyone with eyes can see who won. If you make her race a part of the story, you help push the conversation along for the haters who play a race-game and say "she won because she was black" or "affirmative action at work". I know the intention of the reports is "She won! And she's black! Yay!" But in a way, you diminish her victory by unintentionally implying that race had anything to do with it.
To the haters:
So you think she won BECAUSE she's black? First of all, after hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and an ongoing war against prejudice, black people are not HANDED any victory. They fight for it. Sure, there are people who voted for Obama out of guilt and sympathy for the history of racism in this country, but to boldly state that he won the whole election because of this is too ludicrous to blog about. When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Academy Awards, people accused the voters of affirmative action. If that's not the biggest disgrace in the history of life.
HEY WORLD - DO ME A FAVOR - when I win an award - any award - please let me enjoy it and feel proud of my achievement and the recognition from my colleagues and peers. How dare you tarnish my moment with remarks about people feeling sorry for me because of my race. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!! This woman won Miss Universe and not 1 hour later, here come the haters.
To the ethnicity police:
So, she's not "black"? Clearly these commenters are referring to the idea that being considered "BLACK" is based not on what you look like but rather where you come from or what culture you celebrate. While we should not judge anyone based on what they look like, I believe it is safe to say that this woman could be considered as having Native African heritage somewhere in her lineage - which by the way is the definition of someone being considered "black."
People of Native African descent have darker skin than most. We are spread out in every country, and speak every language. We are in the Carribean, in South America, in Latin America, in Europe, and in other parts of Asia. And yes, we're in America - though that's where people seem to make the distinction about being "black." It seems there is an urban definition of "black" as being synonomous with "African-American" - a widely used though controversial label.
I've heard friends say "I'm not black, I'm Jamaican."
Um . . . that's all great, but if you lived in America in the early 19th century, you would be in chains and called "Toby."
"I'm not black, I'm Cape Verdian."
Right . . . but if you tried to get a drink of water in 1930, you would do so from the "Coloreds Only" water fountain.
"I'm not black, I'm Nigerian."
That's awesome, but when the police raid Mission Hill looking for men that match a "certain" description (Charles Stuart) - you'll be picked up along with your "black" neighbors.
And THAT to me, is what defines "black people" - people of Native African descent who were mistreated even beyond slavery because of the color of their skin, not because they were from a certain region of the world. Of course I'm raising a larger issue that no one - including dark-skinned people of every kind - wants to be lumped in with us "African-Americans." We just can't catch a break! But that's for another day.
For today, Congratulations to you Leila Lopes of Angola - Miss Universe 2011. If someone tries to add or remove anything from this based on race, simply reply how I did when people trying to figure out my ethnicity used to ask me - "Hey David - what ARE you?"
I'm a person. Treat me like one.