November 12, 2009

Race Words and Nationalities

I caught a really neat post over at language log today. Turns out, the term "darkies" is not offensive to South African blacks. They often use it to refer to themselves and are not offended by it. Well, when some South African blacks started using "darkies" on twitter things got a little messy and feeling were hurt. Kinda cool how this global interweb is allowing us to learn about each other while we insult each other.

Anyway, in an earlier post, I featured a video about the black middle class. These things interest me. The stereotype of what it means to be black can easily be broken by recognizing that being black can mean so many different things.

Where I live in DC, there are a lot of east African immigrants - many 1st generation from Ethiopian, Somalia and Kenya. Their English is fine but accented and they all speak languages that I don't recognize. I am constantly fascinated watching the interactions between these people and the black people who have grown up in DC. There's a strange mix of familiarity and awkwardness through a lot of these interactions like if you met a relative from another country that you've never met before.

This is the exact reason that I don't use the term African American. This term really washes over the differences in experience between an Ethiopian immigrant from an upper middle class background whose first language Amharic and an working class American who is black. Most Americans that are "African American" have about as much to do with Africa as I do (which is to say very little). As I understand race in this country, it is not about culture or heritage or genetics it is about the color of your skin and to a much lesser extent the way you talk and the way you dress. I'm pretty sure that race is skin deep. Of course, what you do with your race, how you incorporate it into your identity is much more complex.

Think for a minute about Barack Obama. Here's a guy whose mother was a white lady from Kansas and his biological father was a black man from Kenya. He was born in Hawaii and raised in Indonesia by his mother and his step father, an Indonesian man. He went to high school in LA and college in New York City then law school in Boston and a political career in Chicago. Now, why the hell is this guy African American? Is it because his father, whom he only met once in his life was from Kenya? Yeah. That makes sense.

1 comment:

Diggs said...

The woman who cuts my hair is from Ethiopia.