Thursday, May 05, 2011
Dear Torii Hunter, Carol's Daughter, Henry Louis Gates and All the Hype Freaks: Black Latinidad/Mixed Identity Is Complex, So Stop Being Divisive
In the last four days, I have heard way too much divisive language about being a multi-racial person in the United States. I have spent most of the last 10 years getting to know all the different cultures that have created the mix that I am - West African, Spanish, Caribbean, Black, White, indigenous, Middle Eastern, South Asian - and I have found great respect for all these cultures and I feel proud of all of them. I choose to identify as a Black Latina and/or mixed Latina because: 1) many members of my family in both Cuba and Colombia were hurt by racism, slavery and the denial that both caused, so I feel it is my mission to embrace my Black roots; 2) I absolutely love that if you look at my family, you can see our Middle Eastern features, White features, Black features and South Asian features - I think it is vital to embrace all the journeys that created that mix.
HOWEVER, it seems that people like Torii Hunter have a problem with Black Latinos/as, just at the moment when scholars like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., are bringing their experience to a wider audience. Now, I have issue with many missing things in Gates' work, especially the work of Black Latino/a scholars who made his PBS special possible, but I still think the documentary has value in that it legitimizes the subject for many people who were in denial about it or didn't even know it existed. The PBS special will open the doors for new scholarly activity; new scholars will be able to write about the gaping holes in Gates' work, for example. It is irresponsible for an athlete to attempt to close those doors. I simply cannot understand why an African American like Hunter does not feel connected to his fellow Black players, regardless of where they come from. Isn't the Black experience deeper than a major league baseball job? Does Hunter feel that he must act like a rival gang member in a 10 block radius and decide that he feels more threatened by someone who is just like him, instead of directing his anger towards a system that makes all athletes court jesters to entertain the masses? Why is he unable to see the big picture? Why not join forces with his brothers in order to create more fairness for ALL Blacks in the sport?
Another divisive news item that came to light is decidedly more female-centered. Apparently, the folks who run Carol's Daughter, a website that sells hair and beauty products for Black women, decided to expand their merchandise base to include products that are useful to "mixed women." The statement sent many Black women into a fury because apparently including "mixed" women means excluding "real Black" women. Things got so heated, there is a blog solely dedicated to hating Carol's Daughter. I think the phrase that made the women most upset was when the press release stated that the global women who are of many cultures don't pick one box on a form and that they are "colorless" when it comes to defining themselves. I can completely understand how "colorless" was the wrong choice and any PR person worth his/her weight would have said you can't use that word. However, I don't understand how the folks who used products on the site didn't understand that mixed women were already part of their world. I mean, most people, Black or White, have a mix if you reach far enough back.
The new spokespeople for Carol's Daughter - Selita Ebanks, Solange Knowles, and Cassie - are mixed Black women who have a huge Black fan base. So, exactly what is the problem? Is this just another case of hating the high yellow lady? I don't think it is or should be that simple. Many of us are mixed and we finally want to acknowledge that journey. Acknowledging our mix does NOT mean that we do not identify as Black or find "true Blackness" - whatever that is - ugly. In fact, it is the opposite - we find ALL of it beautiful. It just means that we have many different cultures that we want to acknowledge. Why is that concept frightening for so many people? Just as Hunter does not see Black Latinos/as as "real Blacks," the women who are boycotting Carol's Daughter do not see Ebanks, Knowles or Cassie as representative of "real Blacks." That is a problem. On the one hand, people want us mixed folks to acknowledge our African ancestry, but on the other hand, they feel that we can never really represent our African ancestry. I find the double standard completely counterproductive.
But not everyone is hostile towards the variety of Black people found all over the world. For example, there is one website, Round Brush Hair, which I have been faithful to for years now. It is a Dominican website that sells Dominican hair products which work on hair that ranges from super thick and kinky to super thin and stringy. The website acknowledges the many races found in the Dominican Republic and features products that work for the full range of hair textures. I swear by the products found there and I love how Blacks of many different cultures - African American, Black Latino/a, UK Blacks, etc. - all find a home there. Whether you are lightskinned-ed or black sand dark, you will find people with good advice for you and products suited to your needs. And, NO, I don't work for the site. I'm just pointing out that I suspect that Carol's Daughter was trying to capitalize on this concept, the idea that there is a full range of Blackness that should be acknowledged. I mean, aren't a bunch of African Americans mixed, too? Um - yes! These African American mixed chicks acknowledge it. If you have a mix and acknowledge it, does it mean you are negating being Black? I don't think so.
Furthermore, if you are Latino/a and Black, or Chinese and Black, or whatever and Black, does that mean that you are not really Black? I've always said, I think each person has to choose for him/herself and that the rest of us should respect that decision. Zoe Saldana identifies as a Black Latina and she, indeed, has had a life as a Black woman - no one can take that away from her. It may not be the same life that an African American woman in Houston might have had, but it is still part of the Black experience, just as the life of a Black woman in Germany is still part of the Black experience, etc. Chanel Iman is half African American and half Korean, and she has lived the life of a Black woman, too. Joan Smalls, same thing. AND, Saldana has also has a Dominican experience, and Chanel Iman a Korean experience, and Smalls a Puerto Rican experience, and so on. One experience does not negate the other. One is not more than the other. They are all equal.
Stop denying us. We are here and our lives have been hard and beautiful, just like yours.
(I wrote on this subject years ago. You can look at my previous article on the Black Latino/a experience here. Also, Rosa Clemente wrote a great article on the subject years ago, too. Find it here.)