I originally wrote this on my opensalon.com blog. The page has been closed but I saved it
But with everything going on in the world thought it would be good to re-post….
JANUARY 13, 2010 6:36PM
Confessions of a Colored Negro Black African American…
I was 6 years old when the mini-series Roots came on ABC in January of 1977. But I already knew about slavery. But to see it… in color made a huge impact on my DNA. When I was very young I discovered Harriet Tubman…that made an even bigger impact on my DNA.
I started to speak before I had teeth, my Mom told me. I started reading at an extremely young age and I remember my Mom telling me about Slavery in America.
You see, I say my Mom because My Mother grew up in South Carolina. Her Father, for a time, had been a sharecropper. She grew up having to pick cotton. My dear mother… with her fur coats, and matching hats, gloves, shoes and model looks, spectacular figure, fantastic wardrobe shoes.. fine china ability to create 7 course meals spectacular buffet tables, decorate a full home, sew, crochet,….picked cotton.
I realized that I always seem to focus on my “free” side. My West Indian side. On my Father’s side we can trace our heritage back much further than my Mother’s side. Interesting.
My Maternal Grandfather, is the only Grandparent I knew. My Maternal and Paternal Grandmothers died in the 60’s when my siblings were kids, and my paternal Grandfather was in his 70’s when my Dad was born and died when my dad was around 11.
My Maternal Grandfather was not a sharecropper his entire life… he ended up buying property and having his own farm with vegetables, horses and hogs. He provided for his wife and family and took in several other family members who needed the help. Granddaddy was over 6 foot 4 and thin with high cheekbones, long limbs and a gap between his two front teeth and he looked really good in his Sunday suit and hat. He was a master storyteller. I remember listening to his stories for hours.
I don’t know the history on my Mom’s side past my Grandfather. I think my Mom told me that her Grandmother was part Slave part Cherokee and her Grandfather was a Slave.
See… because of Slavery… I can’t trace past my lineage past my Grandfather. Most of you will never know the impact of that…I am kind of able to understand the impact of it…
Slavery. The ginormous Pink Elephant that has been running around on this continent ever since the 1600’s.
Some may say,”God why can’t these African Americans or whatever they are calling themselves today… just get a grip get over this whole “Slavery” thing and take responsibility for their own actions?…. You know My ancestors were Irish and everybody hated them in this country? You know Deepak Chopra says that in our minds we create our own reality so you are just creating all of this in your mind… as a story…”
Okay you can have your opinion… but these folks cannot deny this country was built on Slavery. It is the economic and cultural the spine of this country. And this isn’t an “African-American” issue…it’s an American issue.
I went to school in Northern VA. We had to go to plantations on field trips. My High School was called…. Robert E. Lee and flew the Confederate flag. I remember looking at the slave quarters at Mount Vernon and having the guide comment on how nice they were compared to other plantations. She also showed a map of the original amount of land that was worked and I just shook my head.
Our current modern minds can’t even comprehend what a slave’s life was like. To work in a field from sun up to sun down in harvesting, collecting, preparing, building, cooking, cleaning, maintaining. We have no idea. Perhaps an illegal Mexcian or Columbian produce worker could comprehend a little…
Then to be considered to be less than human, starved, beaten, sold away from your community, raped and considerded sub human and lucky to have a “decent master” and a clean straw bed…I don’t think many of us could understand this… Perhaps a child sex worker in Indonesia or a child laborer in China could comprehend a little….
So… this is our history. On the side of the descendants of slaves we deal with: not being able to trace our ancestors, disproving stereotypes that have been in this country since the 1600’s, communities that have been, being connected with poverty, being a victim, being lazy, and of a lower class, obese, asexual, loudmouths… I could go on and on.
On the side of the descendants of the slaveowners they deal with: the guilt. This guilt lays so heavy and runs so deep it manifests in so many ways I can’t even begin to put it to words in one blog. (but I’ll try) The guilt makes them want to just ignore over 400 years of American history and not even consider the impact it has had on them. The guilt that all of the major institutions in this country reap the benefits of slave labor. The guilt that some of them can trace their ancestry back to slave owners, plantations.
I don’t know what that must feel like.
I was looking for stereotypical images of African Americians for this blog… I found hundreds of images dark skinned women … not so many of the men.. it made me sick. It also made me determined to keep the discussion alive.
This whole Dark Skinned/ Light Skinned thing runs really deep and is not just an American issue. It happens in the UK, India, Arabic nations, Asian cultures… nobody wants to be too dark… except white people. White people want to be tan!
We should laugh at this and cry.
The descendents of African slaves in America are evolving. With each generation we are expanding, learning and growing. We are a diverse culture inside a diverse culture…with many viewpoints and heritages.
My story is different than that of someone who’s great grandmother was a white woman. Being a light skinned black person has it’s own unique challenges and nuances. What is it like to be able to pass for “white” when your mother is dark? How does it feel when you are excluded from darker skinned black people? How does it feel when you exclude darker skinned black people from your circle? This is all part of the “Black Experience”.
With this evolution, titles seem to change from Nigger-Slave to Negro… when the “No Negro “or “Coloreds Only “signs appeared we reluctantly accepted the term “Colored”… when the Civil Rights movment sat down and peacefully caused a revolution it sparked change, empowerment. Those” Colored, Negro” folk who were tired of seeing their brothers and sisters of color, hosed, chased by dogs, murdered by lynching, and church bombings..got angry and decided not to assimilate. They cut their procced hair, grew Afros learned about their African Roots and shouted ,”I’m Black and I’m Proud!!” with upraised fists for all to hear and recognize. “I am Black I am Strong. Black is Beautiful!”
Then we reached the 80’s where we looked a Apartheid and Spike Lee, Ronald Regan years and famine in Africa… looked at the history of language and saw the-root word “Lack” in “Black” and decided to embrace all that was Africa all that was America within us and call ourselves “African-American” even though many of us had never felt the soil of this rich continent under our feet…even though we show the mark of her people on our faces and in our blood.
Then in the 90’s with hip hop culture and rap coming forward as a strong force in the nation, it’s artists and youth embraced the word “nigga” bringing from the street into their beats and in their words using it so that it’s old meaning disappears. (I don’t think this old meaning ever will dissapear or think it should so I don’t use this word in my vocabulary)
So, yes… Colored Negro Black African Americans continue to search for a way to define ourselves. We struggle, we fall, we laugh, we cry, we are totally and utterly confused, yet we are clear. We know we are here, we know what our ancestors gave us and what we want to pass on to our children. We know we love this country, our country America the Beautiful.
And that’s the way it is.