Blog 3

The Terms & Conditions of Blackness


Blackness is one of the most interesting constructs I’ve ever come across. It is second only to the socially constructed idea of race which if we take the time to think about as a categorization of humans into labels such as black or white, is hilariously inaccurate. You don’t have to look far to find a flaw in this nomenclature. I have a homie from Nigeria, for example. Technically, on paper, that man is Nigerian-American. So shouldn’t he be African-American? Right. But there’s no way he’d ever claim that title. Because apparently African-American is synonymous with “just” Black. [1]

We all come from very different places. But those differences can bring us together. It sounds corny but one of the greatest things I learned from my time living in Boston was that fact. There was a point where you could walk into the Howard Thurman Center on Boston University’s campus, see five Black people, and they’d each be distinctly different. There’d be a Haitian American, Nigerian, Cape Verdean American, Jamaican American, and a Bajan American [2]. Literally. It was great. Our walks of life were different but we weren’t defined by our differences. The only time in life I ever truly felt the idea of a melting pot was when I was at a party in Boston. At some point the DJ someone’s iPhone would go from playing Jay-Z to Vybz Kartel to Alan Cave to Nelson Freitas to Serani to Rihanna in an hour time span. And instead of there being waves of people belonging to each respective culture dominating the dance floor and the rest of us departing until our song came back, we stuck around and drunkenly attempted to learn how to pasada or how to zouk or how to bachata or maybe how to twerk. And that’s fantastic.

But, outside of the bubble of Boston campus parties, Blackness clearly matters. Take the now twitter-infamous Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone situation [3] .  Ignoring all other complaints people have about this film (e.g. The entire plot being fabricated) apparently Blackness also has a melanin requirement. You must be this tall to ride. You must be this dark to be real. Zoe Saldana has said several times that she is a Black actress. “Yo soy una mujer negra’ (I’ve seen this quote everywhere but never with a source attached so here’s to hoping it’s real. But even if its not she’s done plenty of covers with “Black & Latina” as the caption) But Black women immediately reacted negatively.  Before anyone brings up The Picture, even BEFORE they darkened her skin, everyone was mad.

Now, there’s a history here that we should acknowledge. Hollywood does love to whitewash its films. I mean Jake Gyllenhaal did play the Prince of Persia. The mostly Asian MIT crew was portrayed by white kids in 21, and Jim Caviezel played Jesus Christ. [4] So yeah. It’s no secret that Hollywood has this thing for white people.

Given that information, when an actress self-identifies as Black and wants to honor a Black woman’s legacy, why not? Personally I wish we’d learn to acknowledge a win and move forward. This animosity amongst our own just shows other people weakness. I’m not for that.  I also don’t understand it. We’re supposed to be upset that a good Black actress is honoring an amazing Black woman but we’re supposed to enjoy Basketball Wives?  And yeah. Basketball Wives is my example of poor representation of Black women on television. Fight me.  But stop being hypocritical. Decide how much you REALLY care about the media’s portrayal of a Black woman and who is controlling our image.

The point? This is awkward. I don’t have one. I want to start a discussion though. Does blackness exist? Are there true distinct characteristics that define blackness? If so, what are they? Basically, what are the Terms & Conditions of Blackness?

 

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1.  We’ll get to you people who use the term “just” Black at a different date. Do better.
  2.  funny thing is nobody referred to themselves as “Jamaican American”. They just said, “Oh yeah I’m Jamaican”.
  3. Zoe Saldana is going to play Nina Simone in an upcoming film. Some people seem to believe she’s not black enough to play the role.
  4. Jesus is Black.