In case you didn’t get the memo, it’s not ok to just be plain ole’ regular black any more. I don’t know when it happened, maybe sometime around 1982 when Jherri Curls took the heads of black folk by storm, but someone, somewhere decided that regular black was just insanely boring, and that we should break down our ancestry into minute fractions to grasp at whatever non-African blood might be lurking there..
As a child, going to a pretty much all white primary school, I was somewhat shielded from this strange phenomenon for a significant part of my week – to the kids who teased me about my skin colour and my hair, a black person was a black person, regardless of their particular blackalicious mix. Church on the weekends was my little negro oasis though, where my ‘white’ accented, non-keeping it real, Westlife loving self would be introduced to the various black shenanigans that had developed over the past week. It didn’t take me long to learn that having a little extra sumthin sumthin in your bloodline gave you a bit more pizazz. Kinda like when Jamie Oliver tells you to add balsamic vinegar to a salad to give it an extra kick.
Being mixed race or multi ethnic is in fashion. It’s been fashionable in the black community (Caribbean and African American community) for the past 400 years I guess, but recently we seemed to have upped the ante with our obsession. In fact, the media in general seems to love celebrities who can lay claim to more than one ‘race’, but no other group of people are as excited about not being ‘pure’ as black people.
It always makes me snigger a little inside to sit in a room full of black people and raise questions of ancestry. Aside from people who do actually have a non-black parent, the rest of them will inevitably drag up a grandparent who was 1/4 Irish, a great grandparent who was Indian, a third cousin twice removed who might have been Scottish..very rarely will anyone say “I wonder if my ancestors were Nigerian/Ghanaian/Angolan”.
Now it’s true that pretty much all African Caribbean/Americans will have non-African blood in them. The Jamaican motto is ‘Out of many,one people’, a testament to the fact we, and most other Carribean countries are a melting pot of cultures and races. I don’t take umbrage with recognising that – I have knowledge of my non-African ancestry and embrace all parts of me. What does worry me is that we take pride in being ‘mixed’ over being plainly African. It’s frankly embarrassing that we are so intent on clinging onto groups of people that in general, neither accept us, or look at us favourably. No Indian person is ever going to claim you as one of their own because of your Indian great-grandparent. Heck, people who are half Indian and half Black barely get accepted by the Indian community, so why on earth are you so obsessed with making your tenuous link to them known at every available opportunity?
The media intensifies this pathology by being intent on alerting us to the fact that successful black celebrities, especially women, are in fact mixed, almost as if this offers up some sort of explanation for their stunning features. “The award winning actress, who is 13% American Indian..bla bla” “Mary, who is of African American, Indian, and German ancestry…”. It would be hilarious if the message it sends out about the value of blackness wasn’t so insidiously damaging. Folks who up to 20 years ago would just be regular negroes are now ‘multi racial’. In fact, I’m pretty certain if I ever by some freak accident became a billionaire pop star, someone would manage to drag some ‘exotic’ fact about my ancestry from the depths in a pathetic attempt to make me more ‘interesting’.
There is nothing wrong with being a regular black of house slave mixed with field slave. There is nothing wrong with being African. An added splash of Chinese does not make you more interesting, more beautiful or more deserving of attention, affection, or accreditation. I added the last word on for alliteration. Being mixed is cool. Being Black is cool. Being Asian is cool. Being white is cool. It’s cool to be human, stop grasping at mixed race straws and pedestalling it.
In fact, the whole idea that black and mixed race are mutually exclusive terms is troubling but that’s another post…
What percentage of Indian are you? If you’re less than 4% it doesn’t count 😉