(Originally published 2015 in Humboldt State University’s newspaper, The Lumberjack under my weekly column Slauson Girl Speaks)
Writing about things such as race is bound to make people uncomfortable. Within this, my intention is never to insult anyone. My goal is to get people to think more broadly about systems and social constructs, using myself as an example through my experiences.
There is this debate whether black and white are to be capitalized. When I capitalized the terms white and black it seemed appropriate and was out of respect.
There was no reason in particular that I was capitalizing black or white. I believed since these terms are used to identify people in terms of “race” in America, then they would be capitalized. Italian is capitalized. Along with Asian, Mexican and Brazilian. But these terms do more than just identify a group of people. They represent where people are from geographically and the historical context within that.
This brings us to the most interesting aspect of how ‘white’ and ‘black’ are frivolous terms to begin with. The terms white and black are not ethnicities no matter how much the terms are used and applied as such. White and black are instead social constructs, used as tools to create a hierarchy and maintain separation.
It is my fault I was ever using the term black in relation to myself. Maybe the term I was supposed to use was African-American? Truth is, I have always been confused as to what to refer to myself as. I was never black, maybe light brown. I do not know what part of Africa I came from, so I do not feel completely comfortable referring to myself as African-American.
I have no direct connection to Africa like some of my friends. I have friends who are from Ghana and Nigeria. What is the difference between my friends and myself? How can they identify who they are and where they were from? All I know is that I am a girl who was born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles.
This is my confusion of being labeled “black” or “African-American” in America. I am being associated with terms that may or may not fully represent me. I am not able to identify with a country or place of origin.
I guess the politically correct term to refer to ‘black’ people in America is ‘African–American.’ This is unless they are truly African, such as from Ghana, then they are called African.
This is why I cannot forget slavery ever happened. It is because of slavery that ‘black’ people in present day America are confused as to who they are. Millions of people were displaced and brought to foreign lands, families separated and sold. Generations stripped of their native tongue and traditions. Lives interrupted to assist the need of labor in the new world. Now here I am less than 200 years later, feeling lost and displaced just like my ancestors.
So if ‘black’ is the closest aspect that I have to represent my ethnicity, I think that black should be listed with a capital B. It just seems like the respectful thing to do. It has nothing to do with me thinking someone is better.
“When you address a people by their right name, that name must tell you land, history and culture. All people go back to the original geography of their origin. We have overused the word black because it tells you what you look like, but it doesn’t tell you who you are. We are the only people who have lost that geographical and historical reference.” -Dr. John Henrick Clarke