Written By J. Harris
J. Harris is a reader of ClayCane.net and offers an interesting insight about a Southern boy who travels to New York City for the first time. His experience is what many black Americans experience(d), especially pre the Internet when meeting people who looked exactly like their family members. Also, this assumption of blackness is what causes some of the perceived strife between black Americans and Latinos. Note: I know Latinos is a "big" word, but this writer mainly focuses on Caribbean Latinos like Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (based in New York City).
The representation of Latinos in media is similar to post surgery Jennifer Lopez versus all natural Rosie Perez. So, I thought this piece from J. Harris was an interesting and honest take.
Age sixteen was the first time in my life that I left my hometown of North Carolina. I was a born and raised Southern boy in the ’80’s, pre the Internet, pre the Latin explosion and pre the new wave of biracial/multicultural identity. I traveled to New York City and was escorted by my older cousin through parts of downtown Manhattan. I kept asking, "Why do all the blacks here have light skin?" Confused, he said, "What the f**k are you talking about?"
I pointed out, "See, that person, that person... they all have a light complexion." My cousin looked perplexed and ignored me when he couldn't make sense of my point, eventually laughing. Then, with a Eureka expression, he said, "These people are not black, they are Puerto Rican!"
I replied, "These people are not Puerto Rican, I have seen them on TV and none of them are black like this." I had seen Mexicans before and there were television shows with "Puerto Ricans." But, these Ricans were always the ones with more Indian/Caucasian ancestry than the ones with more African features. He irritatingly responded, "They are not black—stop being silly!"
I, of course embarrassed because I didn't get it, just didn't comment anymore. Rosie Perez was the first on-screen Puerto Rican I had seen (after leaving NYC) that in my home town would have been considered black without even being mixed.
I was ignorant not only about racial identity and the diversity of Puerto Rican phenotypes and culture, but I was ignorant about my own history for a long time. Until the age of 10 or 11, I thought light skin and variances in hair texture were some type of sporadic mutation in black people. To say it best, I never questioned it until someone revealed I had white folks in my mother's ancestry. In total shock, my sister and father made the final connection for me clear by relating it to my mother's family skin complexion variation. It then took me years later in college to understand how a white man and black woman in 1900 could conceive a child. These were against the rules that were ingrained in my consciousness.
The history of black folks took me years to place in the scope of my life and world history. Every black American has some white person in their family somewhere. However, for us down South, it’s rare for it to have happened any time post civil-rights or maybe even post share-cropping.
Spike Lee brought the "light versus dark" issue to the screen in 1988 with School Daze. Again, as I mentioned previously, unless you looked like Jennifer Beals, you were black and once we found out Jenny had a black daddy—she was then considered black too with her hard to corn-roll hair. Halle Berry, Boris Kudjoe, Tiger Woods and Victoria Rowell “mixed”?
One of the things the American experience gave blacks over other cultures of the Diaspora was a sense of awareness. While Puerto Ricans, as evidence with their census reporting 80% consider themselves white, we on the other hand embrace a sense of African Pride—no matter how light-skinned someone is. Places like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic possess a rejection of blackness, even though they are black or in some ways more African than black Americans. However, unlike them, based on our unique history, we shamelessly know we are black peoples—regardless of complexion or class.
J. Harris is a guest writer for ClayCane.net. This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of Clay Cane.
Posted by Clay ::
1:30 AM ::