Opinion Page

home > weblog > 2004 > january > blog012504.php

Please define "African-American" for me. OK, now answer me this question. Did you use geographical definitions or skin pigmentation definitions? I'd like to know. If the key to defining "African-American" is that of geographical significance, then the definition would imply that the person was born on the continent of Africa and moved to the Americas. Under that definition, a white person born in South Africa (for instance) who now resides in this country would be "African-American." That person would check "African-American" on job applications, college applications, and government assistance forms (read: handouts). So, a white person would be eligible for minority grants, scholarships, and free housing solely on the basis of their birthplace, something beyond their control.

Now, if you said "no, it's to designate a person who's skin absorbs more sunlight" (read: black), then why do we use a term which doesn't correctly identify the origin of every one who the group is designed to identify? After all, if a person is born in Brazil and is black, he is clearly not from Africa, and even if his ancestry does include people from the Dark Continent, at what generational leap do we make the cut-off? Is someone whose family is 8 generations in the country less American than someone born in Latvia who has only recently moved to this country? If someone from Jamaica comes to this country, is Jamaica a part of Africa?

So, we have a problem. If the term is designed to designate geographical origin, then white people could be considered "African-American." I even know such people. If, however, the sole defining criteria has to do with skin pigmentation, than the "African" part is a mis-informative labeler, and could be insulting to people from other continents. If I was from Brazil, I wouldn't want to be considered African. I would be insulted. If the term "African-American" is all about skin color, then why don't we use that criteria in the name and remove all doubt as to what it represents?

If "African-American" scholarships and awards are truly about rewarding people from Africa who've come to this Country to improve their lives, then they should be eligible if they are white or black (or yellow or red or brown...). If not, then change the name to "black" and let it stand for what it has become more symbolic of... the continuation of racial discrimination in this Country.

Now, before you go off half-cocked, (unless you're John Wayne Bobitt - you have an excuse) I am a fan of the famous (infamous?) "I Have a Dream" speech which Dr. King so wonderfully stated, and his widow has be extorting money from ever since. I believe that we should live in a society where people aren't treated differently because of skin color. I believe that each of us should be treated based upon our own skills, abilities, and performance. If someone is qualified for a job, hire them! I work with all different people in my current job. I actually work with a black man from Africa (he is "African-American" in my book). I work with another black man who is Jamaican (he is NOT "African-American" in my book). I get along with both, and I actually have a lot of respect for the Jamaican. He is class through-and-through. He has also been promoted to a position of authority, and I believe it is because he is talented, well-spoken, obviously educated, and very professional. If anyone doubts this, I met his father tonight, and he was also very well-spoken, professional, and every bit as likable.

But I'm getting away from my point. And damn it, I'm determined to get there. My point is that Dr. King's "Dream" wasn't about a system of preferences and set-asides, but rather a time when people could look beyond mere skin color to see the real person underneath. If you allow blanket reactions to a person merely on the basis of skin color, you're shallow and most likely poorly educated. Black doesn't equate to stupid, or violent, or poor. And white doesn't equate to supremacy, or intelligence, or wealth. We each are what we make of ourselves. And if you haven't made yourself someone who can see beyond skin color, then you have shown your depth.

Dr. King was right to say that we shouldn't judge people on the basis of their skin color. But by labeling people precisely because of their skin color doesn't move us closer his goal. It perpetuates the shallow mentality that caused stereotypes and distrust in the first place.

I think it's horribly stupid that "white" is the only "racial" designation that exists solely on the basis of color. Black people in England aren't black. They're British. Why can't we stop drawing lines on the basis of color? Is a multi-millionaire who's black really in need of grants because he's not succeeding on his own? Shouldn't he be insulted by that premise?

And don't even get me started on the "professional widow"! Dr. King's "legacy" has been so distorted and maligned by the current "management" of his estate that he's probably glad he's not around to see it anymore. I know I wouldn't be too proud of people threatening lawsuits for keeping my vision in the public limelight. They should be ashamed. It's hard to believe that relatives (and even spouses!) could get so lost without his light around to shine the way.

See what else I have to say Previous day's rant

Go to Top

If you have ideas, comments, or criticisms, tell me about it.