Black (Or Not) Like Me: Thoughts on CNN’s Black in America 5

Black (Or Not) Like Me: Thoughts on CNN’s Black in America 5

The Huffington Post

Smokey Fontaine, Chief Content Officer
Interactive One

I know who my colleagues think I am. I’m pretty sure they’ve accepted me as the lightest Black dude in the office. My job demands that I constantly engage co-workers around racial issues, so I have opportunities to represent my Black experience all the time which I’m sure gains me some points.

But it’s different in the street. My what-is-he? scorecard for strangers who pass me by in New York City is as follows:

  • 60 percent think I’m Latino
  • 25 percent think I’m Black or interracial
  • 15 percent think I’m White

Pretty good percentages for me because I’m only comfortable when my see-me-as-a-person-of-color index is above half. That was my problem in Baltimore. Living there for a few years to teach sixth grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School made me vulnerable to mis-identification in a southern environment without a significant Latino population. My white quotient jumped to above 50…

…CNN’s latest installment of their top-rated Black In America series handles these complex issues of identity, asking young African-Americans of various shades and backgrounds to discuss their experience. First, I’m surprised that it took them so long to address this topic (especially given series hostess Soledad O’Brien’s interracial heritage), but I was most struck by how the young people’s experiences were so similar to mine and those of my (not all-Black) friends 20 years ago. It was like I was watching a video of a college I-Pride meeting from 1995.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every generation’s naivete drives their passion to figure out the world and clearly the show’s goal is to raise more questions than it answers. But as cultural critic Stuart Hall liked to say, “cultural identity is one of becoming as well as being. Like everything which is historical… [identities] undergo constant transformation” and I didn’t feel that in the show.

There is a cultural upheaval going on in our country that is expanding ideas about Blackness. Latino, Asian and even white identity are also being affected (don’t get it twisted: the identity of caucausian culture is as dependent on people of color as the other way around). But this shift was not loudly represented by all the great young folks in Black In America talking about how they see and socialize themselves…

What I’ve learned is that when there is a gap between how someone feels about themselves and how they’re perceived by others, you get conflict. Even within my own interracial family, there are darker-skinned folks who take on their Italian maiden name as an homage to the white mother that raised them (and a dis to the Black father who didn’t), and lighter-skinned folks who refuse to ever straighten their hair to avoid any more obvious connections to a European heritage…

Read the entire article here.

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