In this piece of Soledad O’Brien’s “Who is Black in America” Nayo Jones explains why she doesn't "feel black." Jones explains she feels this way in part, because of all the teasing she endured as a child from other kids who called her "white girl."
Soledad O'brien's “Who is Black in America?” premieres this Sunday at 8 PM ET/PT.
Unfortunately, I caught only the last 15 minutes of this show. I haven't been following this series, "Who is Black in America?," but would like to catch up. I have bi-racial and multi-racial students EVERY YEAR in 7th and 8th grade who struggle with self-identity and how they are perceived by others. I understand their feelings (and there are many different kind of feelings) because I too am biracial and have struggled, but now embrace and appreciate it and the perspective it gives me. I would like to know how to access the entire video of this show, especially this last one that features Nayo Jones. Can someone tell me how I can do this?
This is my story! Nayo is me! I never once was ashamed of who I was until others told me that I should be. I have lied to cover it, pretended not to notice, and got into fights to shift the focus. All along knowing that I did not fit in.
It was not until I enlisted into the Navy and saw the diversity in the military. That understood, I do not have to be the same as everyone to fit in.
I am an American of multiple races and heritages. I have white, black, and American Indian in my blood. None of which make me who I am, but the fact that being bi-racial made me different. Did strongly influence who I am.
I am an adult now with children of my own. I try everyday to instill in my children the old Martin Luther King line; judge not by the color of skin, but by the content of their character.
"Black" is a powerful word that has been used in the US by whites and blacks for decades as a proxy for many other things, such as social standing, implied level of education, economic standing, genetics etc. In US black on black social politics, you hear people say "you're not black enough", meaning things like "you haven't lived in the hood and you don't know the struggle", directed to both people of lighter complexion, and also successful blacks that have education, economic status etc. So for black people living in ghettos and impoverished, or those that through experience, really feel the effect of injustice in America regardless of status, "black" has a unique definition which combines genetics with social struggle. In effect, "black" for victims of discrimination, poverty and injustice, has become a socio-economic construct, a "bond" or "identity". Even Bill Clinton was referred to as "the blackest president", by blacks because of his apparent "understanding" of "black issues", his "soul".
Use of the tern "black" for whites is even more complex. For whites that achieved adulthood prior to 1990 (post efforts at political correctness etc.), "black" generally implies genetics, but also carries with it a host of other usually negative connotations, to which most liberal whites will never admit. But get behind closed doors and the "n bomb" and the true feelings often get released with abandon. "Black" can imply almost anything that the white person attributes to the word, based on their education, exposure to legacy racist attitudes (e.g. parents and family) and life experiences. Look at which decade whites achieved adulthood, and you can statistically predict their true definition of the term.
For whites that reached adulthood post 1990, they have been influenced by many things which have begun to crack the vice grip of racism. The political correctness movement, institutionalized education regarding tolerance, media influence, increased availability of higher education for blacks (thanks to affirmative action) and other factors such as black role models in athletics has had a tremendous influence in the definition for younger people. White teens these days tend to view the term "black" more in terms of family background, with other positive associations. But this is not universal, and they are still exposed to legacy attitudes of their parents.
So even if you appear physically and identify yourself as "black", it is clear that the myriad of definitions are very complex. Now consider the plight of people that really are neither, or depending on your perspective both. For people that are "mixed, being given a choice of only two terms, black or white, is a painful topic that can rip people to shreds. Watch the show, there's a young bi-racial poet that breaks down while reading her own poem describing her experiences. It's very sad to see. This "having to choose", being "put in a box" has triggered depression, suicide and more often than not, ruined lives of young teens struggling with the issue! Many bi-racial people that call themselves "black" experience black on bi-racial racism. And many who call themselves "white" are accused of "passing" (another term with racist origins) for white. And they have been forced to alienate the "black" members of the family in order to hide their mixed roots. There are full grown adults that can be brought to tears over this topic".
Soledad poses the question "who decides"? Well as the previous commentator indicates, we now live in a society where individuals decide their own gender based on how they feel. People with male genitals describe themselves as women because other aspects of their biology, or even feelings are of a different gender. Where there is no obvious clear definition, individuals may choose to characterize themselves in any way suitable to themselves! Since the emancipation proclamation, governments in the South have tried to forcibly "decide". And the US Census Bureau has given very rigid choices. In the Old South there were various schemes to categorize bi-racial or multi-racial peoples, some have survived through to today. Political zoning, entitlements and inheritance were the main motivations. And that was the origin of the "one drop rule", which by the way is a "rule" officially recognized by no one these days. Terms like mulato, quadroon and octaroon were created to describe someone as half, quarter or eight black, like cattle at an auction. And "passing" was another term originating from the South to describe people of mixed race that described themselves as "white".
All of that vocabulary is institutionalized racism. And forced categorization (aka stereotyping) should be rejected. Soledad O'Brian is clearly well adjusted with her bi-racial status. And she is clearly very brave for addressing this topic. But to hear her say this morning that she always described herself as "black" because of the "one drop rule" was quite shocking. There is no problem with her self description if that is the way she "feels". But there is no one drop rule! The truth is bi-racial people tend to describe themselves based on many factors. If the race of the most influential parent is black, they are generally comfortable with that definition. If the race of the most influential parent is white, then they generally go with some other definition. Many biracial children are raised in single parent households, so the dominant parent association is the first major influence. Then as teens and young adults other factors come into play. Acceptance and rejection by specific racial groups can cause either reinforcement or a complete change. But the definition has very little to do with genetics.
The best thing the "Who's Black and Who Decides" segment can do is raise awareness and educate regarding the issues of multi-racial people. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to grab an off the shelf label to describe themselves. And many people don't fit into a "check the box" label.
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