by Alberto Padron
The first time I heard that statement coming out of a family member’s mouth, I was confused. In my mind, a violation of logic had occurred. After all, the person making this statement was blacker than the black hair on their head. I mean, this person is Black. Anyone with reasonable vision would agree. So what was meant by this apparently irrational statement made by an otherwise rational person?
I’ve concluded it’s a confusion of color (race) and culture (ethnicity). More specifically, an attempt to distance oneself from the term ‘black’ because of deeply seeded negative connotations associated with the word. This bothers me. The reasons for these unfair connotations will be discussed in a future blog entry.
So let’s address the basics. ‘Black’ refers to race. Culture refers to ethnicity. These terms often get confused. The moment we start hyphenating the term ‘Black,’ a clearer cultural picture begins to emerge. For example, when you encounter the term Black-American (or African-American) or Black-Hispanic (or Afro-Latino), one gains a better feel for the cultural orientation that is being referred to. Indeed, there is a relationship between color and culture, but when we make the two indistinguishable, confusion follows. My point is we should challenge ourselves to be accurate and respectful of who we truly are.
Consider the following:
(1) African-Americans are not the only Blacks. In the U.S., the term ‘Black’ is largely monopolized by the African-American community. I don’t think it’s by design. It’s just the way it has been in the U.S. since I can recall. The dialogue regarding race is either ‘Black’ or ‘White.’ I remind us that there are Blacks from across the globe residing in America. These Blacks who are not of African-American culture should be proud to claim their color (race) without apprehension that they’ll be mislabeled African-American.
(2) All colors are beautiful. To run away from the term ‘Black’ because of a probable misassociation with African-Americans is insulting. Additionally, to look in the mirror, see a Black person and publicly distance yourself from the term is indefensible and technically incorrect. I, for one, look at my Hispanic mom and even more so, my dark-skinned grandparents and cousins and embrace the term ‘Black’ because it’s part of who I am. Conversely, I have fair-skinned Hispanic family members as well, resulting in a mix of races referred to as mulatto. I’d prefer we embrace our color (black) and combine it with our culture (Hispanic in my case) and proudly declare what you truly are, be that Black-Hispanic, Afro-Latino, mulatto or whichever term best describes who you actually are.
In a country historically divided along color lines, let’s start being real about who we are, deny nothing and celebrate our color and culture accurately and respectfully.
*Originally posted on Born Bicultural USA on December 29, 2009
Where Afro-Latino and North American culture converge, you’ll find me, Alberto Padron. My bicultural journey began when I was born in Elizabeth, N.J. to Cuban mulatto immigrant parents in the early ’70s. I’m not a cultural anthropologist but I play one on my blog www.BornBiculturalUSA.com. I’m incurably curious and committed to never stop learning. When I am not discussing culture just for fun, I can be found discussing my observations of culture for work. For over a decade, national brands lean on my skills, experience and education in strategic marketing communications in order to better connect with their key audiences.