Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Being black and keeping it real!

Black and white are not opposites. It is the social construct that expresses the norm vs. the anomaly. In the West the norm is white. White is just a physical feature though. To be white you just have to look white, that’s it. You can be white and rich, white and poor, white and smart, white and dumb, white and handy, white and lazy, white and sporty, … It doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad at football or dancing, whether you are better at math or are a good speaker. It doesn’t even matter what your favorite music style is. You are white because you look white.

Being black is unfortunately different. To be black you don’t just have to look black but you also have to ‘act black’. It means that you have to talk and walk a certain way. It means you listen to a certain kind of music. You should also be fond of sports and be good at dancing and singing. Then and only then you are ‘real black’. While white people can never be ‘fake whites’, blacks can be ‘fake blacks’.

If blacks do not answer to the criteria set for blackness they are not real. You become a bounty or an oreo. You may hear from white people things like: ‘Yeah, but you are different. You are not really black.’ But what does that mean? Why wouldn’t I be a real black person if I do look like a black person, if I am confronted with the same prejudices as other black people? Because I have a master’s degree and a good job? Because I know how to speak properly? Because I know how to be polite? Because I prefer rock music to hip hop and reggae? Because I don’t talk like blacks on TV?

It seems that if we do not act as a stereotype we lose our integrity, we even lose our identity. The worst is that blacks themselves keep this phenomenon alive. Blacks all over the Western world often expect their fellow blacks to ‘act black’, otherwise you are not authentic. Blacks use the bounty and oreo terms much more often than whites do, and we know it is meant as an insult.

White people do not have the same issue. You can talk and dance whatever way you like, you are still white. Nobody will say you are not really white. Even a wigger (a white person who dresses and talks like a rap gangsta) is and stays white. There isn’t any clear image of what a white person is supposed to be, or how whites are supposed to act in order to be ‘real whites’. Eminem is white and will stay white, but president Obama has to pass the realness test to be considered a brother (and apparently he succeeded very well at this).

Whites are therefore free to fill in their identity just the way they like (and just the way they are). This makes them stronger as it broadens their perspectives on personal success. This while blacks are confronted with stereotypes on which they have to test their authenticity. I don’t want to blame anyone for this social phenomenon, I just want blacks to reflect on this. And while I ponder on this I keep in mind Obama’s great words said during his short speech at the Democrat Convention in 2004: Eradicate the slander that says a black kid with a book is acting white!


  1. Love your post! it's so so true!

  2. I hear what you're saying and I been told I'm 'not Black enough' for similar reasons, but as frustrating as that is, I gotta say that your commentary needs to placed within the historical circumstances producing the world's current ideas of Blackness and Whiteness. It's a psychological mindset that in my opinion, has some deep historical roots.

    Understandably you may have just wanted to vent so you didn't really wanna get into all of that stuff and that's cool with me, but I wanted to add my 2cents on Whiteness, bec too often we see this as a Black problem yet these divisions and contestations of identity exist in every society, be it Black, Asian, Latino, Arab or Aboriginie. I think thinking its exclusively a Black problem also creates its own stigma. No such thing as a 'Black problem'.

    Abt Whites, it's not that simple; in history, a person who married outside of was previously seen as a traitor and an outcast. W!##@s are seen in this way in some White communities - ever heard the term N!##@ lover?

    The distinctions among White people are not based on race but on class, ethnicity and nationality, whereas with Blacks, our Blackness is our defining feature. It makes us who we are, that's what political and cultural struggles were based on, as was our oppression i.e the coloration scheme of the Plantation.

    In the 70s in the UK signs outside pubs read No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish. All were considered to be undesirable and treated as sub-human. Today, among White people in Europe, there is tension between Eastern Europeans and Western Europeans - the Eastern seen as 'lesser, uneducated people' who come to 'steal jobs' and have lots of babies at the State's expense. They are seen as 'not quite the same' and are 'not quite as civilised' as their Western cousins. Look at how the Albanians and the Romani are treated in Italy, the Poles and Ukranians in England. Even among the English there are class differences which are tied in to one's claims to Britishnes and Whiteness, hence the terms chav, white trash, the Irish jokes, etc.

    Lastly, are White Muslims 100% Legit White living in Islamophobic Europe? Nope. The rise of right wing media and people like Geert Wilders and Nick Griffin indicate White is not 'just White'.

  3. Sibo, thank you for this wise post!

  4. Thanks KonWomyn for bringing deeper insights en nuance. The roots and meanings of stereotypes is always complicated and your argument is deftly a great contribution.

  5. Hey Sibo
    Thanks, glad you feel me. I just feel we've been conditioned to look at the stereotypes and issues of Blackness or between Indianess or Arabness with greater scrutiny, than with Whiteness. Identity battles are common to human society as a whole, it's just played out very differently in every society.

    BTW thanks for the explaination on the Congo, a few weeks back - I never responded. ; ) I hope you saw the photo potraits in The Guardian from a while back: Congo: 50 Years, 50 Faces.


  6. Yeah, I know the photo portraits, they were shot by a Belgian photographer in Congo, wonderful and painful at the same time, isn't it? These portraits really did move me.

    It's true that identity battles are common and played out differently in every society and time (how I am annoyed by the speculation about Egyptians being black or white, while race and skin color can never have had the same meaning 4000 years ago in the Middle East as it has today in the West). From my point of view (and concerning my identity) the black-white thing is central, but it's certainly not universal.

    I stressed on the difference between the white and black experience and was tempted to simplify things, for the sake of clarity. But it's true, it's not always fair to do so, as I abstracted a reality that is usually much more complex.

    It’s true that being white is not just being white. Here in Belgium we have the conflict between Flemish and Walloons, where sometimes if you want to join a conversation it’s better to be black than from the other linguistic group. Turks are ethnically white, you have many Turks with blond-light-brown hair and blue or green eyes. But they experience much more discrimination in Europe because of being Muslims. Many Northern Italians lack much respect for the Southern Italians. They are all white though.

    But still I feel that Poles and Ukrainians in London, just like Irish and Italians in the US, will eventually assimilate into the white mainstream (after 1 or 2 generations max), more easily than people of color. Africans and other blacks in Europe tend to be very much assimilated to the European culture. But in France for instance you can see that Sephardic Jews, Italians, Armenians etc, although often still perceived as different from the mainstream, are much more accepted as being French. Caribbean blacks who have been culturally French for centuries are more often defined as foreign. The reason: they look physically too different from the mainstream.

    Still, this is not an argument to wine about racism and the exclusion of blacks. I am not the one to do that. I think that we should take our fate in our own hands. I am sad that so many French youth define themselves rather using the country of their forefathers than their home country France. I see similar evolution in Belgium. France is in an identity-mess today and certainly not an example to follow. This is strange after that France has such a long history of assimilating foreign cultures within its nation. But the Muslim and black element is apparently too much to handle, too odd to fit into the concept of ‘Frenchness’. This saddens me and scares me for the future of our kids in Europe.

    I experience here in Europe since the end of the 80's a very strong African-American influence, and not always in a positive sense. Many black Europeans are in search of their identity and find inspiration in the black American experience, the good things but also the bad things. I'm definitely also a part of it. This is my fight for the right to be different but still a European (and so much more), but also a fight to learn from the black American experience and to not repeat its mistakes.

    I checked your blog yesterday, very nice selection you've got, I'll visit it more.

  7. This is an interesting conversation, addressing some salient points. I'm new to this Blog and in truth blogging in general. I'm in agreement with most of the discussion. One issue less addressed is the importance, if not rise, of a small but growing black middle class and how, through galvanizing economic, social and political energy, some if not most of the issues highlighted are addressed. Surely, part of the problem, is we place too much importance, emphasis and even desire to integrate, despite the evidence that we continue to be compromising at every level?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...