Why Be “Black”? By William Javier Nelson

Why Be “Black”?
By William Javier Nelson

The reader with a long memory may recognize here some things I got to at an earlier point in time. Bear with me.

One of the most enjoyable work-place experiences I ever had was at the Centro Cultural Dominico Americano (called the “Dominico” for short) in 1989. There, a group of young Dominican instructors (myself included) who happened to speak English taught a series of classes to Dominicans of various ages and skill levels who wished to learn and improve upon their English.

And what a varied group of instructors it was!

There was a 40-ish woman who had spent her adulthood as a U.S. suburban housewife. There was a young Brooklynite whose New York accent (when he was speaking English) and jokes often brought down the house. There was myself, who grew up almost entirely with “white” North Americans and whose childhood was like Wally Cleaver’s and Eddie Haskell’s. There was a humble Dominican from the country-side whose kindness and patience was etched on his face. There was a haughty and arrogant-looking man (inside, however, he was a pussycat) who would make it a point to drive up to the Dominico in his cream-colored Peugeot. And many others just as varied. In spite of our differences, we partied together a lot. Why? Because, aside from the fact that we all spoke English, there was another very powerful thing which made us have something in common: our Dominican culture and nationality.

What did that mean? It meant that our parties had plenty of merengue music. It meant that our feasts and dinners had plenty of Latino dishes like mondongo and sancocho and things like chicharrones de pollo. IT meant that we danced a lot at our parties, instead of stand around and talk. It meant that, although we spoke English, we could — all of us — slip into Dominican rapid-fire Spanish (complete with missing “s” letters at the ends of words) at a moment’s notice. It meant that we couldall recall what “el 27 de Febrero” meant and say it with pride.

What does the above have to do with my original question: “Why be ‘Black’?”

Hold on.

I have been reading posts and essays from “blacks” on Interracial Voice for over five years now. There has been a strain common in many of their letters. And this strain is one in which a “black” identity is encouraged for mixed-race persons with African ancestry. What do they use to support this argument? {Drum Roll, please]

Here is the logic used:

“Society will see you as ‘black.'”

There are many ways in which this logic has been expressed. Universally it has been couched in the language of rejection, oppression and hurt. Universally it has made the basis of one’s membership in the “black” group the reaction by some rejecting “white” outsider.

Has there been any thread of logic advocating “blackness” for mixed-race persons because of something positive and unifying?


Now scroll back up to the group of instructors at the Dominico. And ask us,


Until “black” posters to Interracial Voice fundamentally grasp the differences between:

(a) what united those English teachers back in 1989 in the Dominican Republic, and
(b) the rationales they have used here on Interracial Voice for asserting “black” identities for mixed-race persons,

they will continue to “not get it” as to what we are all about.

Now, I don’t expect to “convert” any “black” One-Droppers out there in cyberland. However, they may be better advised to attempt to change tactics. Why not offer an appeal to “blackness” based not on the rejections of “whites” but rather some cultural/social/linguistic things (like perhaps blues, jazz, church, folklore, etc.).

That’s what makes Germans Germans.
That’s what makes Mexicans Mexicans.
That’s what makes Chinese Chinese.
That’s what makes Egyptians Egyptians.
That’s what makes Jamaicans Jamaicans.

Now if this is not possible, then we have some exciting (and disturbing) new avenues for discussion.

William Javier Nelson, Ph.D.

Brief bio:
William Javier Nelson, Ph.D. teaches in the adult education program at Shaw University. He is a native of the Dominican Republic and performs (African-derived) salsa and merengue music with the musical group FUSION CARIBE.

http://web.archive.org/web/20010409211059/http://interracialvoice.com/javier15.html  (Originally published in “Interracial Voice”)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s