Photo by Estúdio23 on Pexels
I never knew the word black was banished until I left Haiti, a country where most black people wouldn’t dare to forget the story of black people on this island. The word “black” has such an importance there, that even the Haitian Creole word for black (nèg for men, and nègès for women) is also used for referring to people in general. I always knew that there are several words to describe black people, and I have been thinking about them since my childhood. Nevertheless, I supposed that these terms were just used for special contexts, and the word black itself was the most neutral way to illustrate the color of a black person. My confusion over black identity started when people would avoid referring to my color.
One day I went to a little town of southern Europe to visit the restaurant of a friend’s family. When I arrived there, I had a small talk with her parents. It happened that her father had seen someone who looked like me. Therefore, he asked me if I was living near the restaurant. I said that I was living very far from their city. Once he heard this, my friend’s father made up his mind, and concluded that the girl he saw was not me; although he also added that he was convinced this girl and I, we were “totally identical physically”.
Following this observation, my friend’s father continued to describe the person he saw, even though he told us he was going to end this conversation. It seemed that he wanted to convince me. He described the girl he saw as short, skinny, and then suddenly he stopped his discourse. Within 5 seconds, he mumbled that the girl was of the same color as I am. I stared at him without adding a word. And he said once again, “same color as you.” I started to think, “is my color indescribable? would there be a noun for my color.” He noticed that I was lost in my thought, then he said, “sorry, she is black, I didn’t want to say this, but I saw you didn’t understand.” Loll, I did understand what he meant, but I found it weird that he could not say that I am black. And the funniest thing is that he asked me to apologize to him for referring to my color.
Well, it was not the first time people in Europe told me they had seen people who look like me. They even ask me sometimes if these people are related to me. Maybe I have some doppelgangers of mine, still unknown by me, who are wandering around the Old Continent; although, when they had me meet these people whom they claim to be my doppelgangers, the only thing I recognized as a common trait is the color. Perhaps they are right: In some way, all black people are alike. Aren’t they? Besides, it’s not their job to find out the nano-distinctive traits that may exist between two black individuals.
One Saturday afternoon, a woman came to our apartment to visit one of my ex-roommates. I don’t know what happened to her during the day, if she is always like that or not; however, once she stepped in, she started to throw out her biases about black people. I was in my bedroom, I just got outside to see who was speaking about this subject. When she saw me, she said, “sorry, I will not call you black.” I replied, “no, you don’t have to be sorry. I am black, it is not a bad thing.” Then I started to question myself, “why did she refuse to tell me I am black upfront, when she talked badly about black people, and referred to them as black? Why didn’t she call me black, when she was inferring that I am black? I was just asking many questions, but I pronounced no other word…Then I got back to my bedroom and had a brief nap.
What is bad? The name? Black people themselves? or the treatment they have received? Well, most people will agree with me if I say it is the treatment that they have received over history which is bad. However, it seems that both black people and the word black itself has been associated to misery and despair, in a way that we must rescue black people from their blackness. Nevertheless, it is all the contrary that should have been done: Rescue racists and deniers of racism from their ignorance. Even though our societies sometimes treat me differently because of my color and my ethnic background, I am not guilty of being black, neither am I a predestined victim of Mother Nature. I am just black, and it is a natural and essential part of me.
And yet, even some black people themselves don’t like when they are being described as black… I understand their point, but I think it is a misleading solution. They are still living with the consequences of different types of discrimination a black person may endure, but they don’t want to be described as black. I don’t have to be described with another epithet to feel happy.
On the contrary, I prefer being described with the word black itself, because the other words are either too exclusive, or not specific at all. An African American may have a different color, if he is from Morocco for example. A black African is not an American. Besides, an African can be of a different color then black. A black person may have come from a different region, for example in the Caribbean or South America. Well, if we consider these people as Americans, then their blacks are black Americans. The colored people terminology is valid, but it is a general word for all people who are not white, that is, it is not for black people only.
As the problem of racism is left unresolved, confusion over an ethnic name is not that important. Another for us to free ourselves from all discrimination, perhaps we should see ourselves as people without colors, and then describe each other by referring to other characters. Maybe the idea of color, like the race itself, must be eliminated in our mental categories. While this thought pattern still exists in our brains, if you want to refer to me, just say the black girl.