Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shades of Blackness, Vol. 1

I am black, not African American, not Afro American, though possibly colored. I grew up in a sea of white. I was frequently the only black child in my class and more than once the only in my grade. At one point in time the only other black child in the whole school was my younger brother. And most people thought he was white. Every member of my immediate family is a different color, my stepdad, my mother, both my brothers. If we lived in Brazil we would all be considered different races. But we live in America where you are either white or not white. My stepdad is white and my mother is black. My little brother is my stepdad’s child and looks like a white kid with a good tan 90% of the time. He has dark brown hair and blue/gray eyes. I am yellow that gets kinda bronze in the summer. I have dark brown black hair and green eyes. My older brother is darker than me but not dark and has black hair and brown eyes. His father is also white. My mother is darkest of us all (though I don’t consider her dark but others do) with black hair and brown eyes. Some people may think that we wouldn’t look alike with different eye and hair color but the funny thing is, we all look just alike. When my siblings and I are together with our mother, there is no question whose children we are and that we’re all related. Many people are surprised that we all have different fathers. If my younger brother and I were the same age, people could almost think that we were twins. The resemblance has gotten more pronounced as we’ve all gotten older and grown into ourselves.

I was never so aware of color or my color until I was practically grown. Initially I had planned on attending college in New Orleans. Several people, including my mother, aunt, and boyfriend at the time, remarked how I should be just fine because I was the right color. I ended up attending the University of Arkansas in my hometown of Fayetteville. Growing up, my mother had taught me that I was black. All of us were. In my mind, there were no differences, no shades of color that were better or worse. In the white world that I grew up in, black was black was black. It wasn’t until I started taking African American studies classes at the UA and acquired some black friends that I have became aware of how apparently light I am. People assume that I must be half white. Not at all, only a quarter actually. Both of my parents are darker than me, I just turned out light.

I’ve had white people ask me what is the politically correct way to refer to black people. My parents are not from Africa so I do not consider myself African American. On my mother’s side I have great-great grandparents that are Native American (Creek) and Jamaican as well your usual American mongrel of African Slave and White American. On my father’s side my grandmother is English-white and my grandfather is Caribbean-black. Since my heritage is so diverse, I feel that the only thing that can fully describe is black, not African American. To me, African American denies the many parts of my heritage that are essential to who I am.