When we live, work and create in a land, we become subject to its influence- so in a way globalcreating and immersing and assimilating can never be fully pulled apart. It teaches you that the black and white way of dealing with the world, the facts you learned in your homeland are not necessarily all true. In some cases, that liberates you from them.
For 3 years, I lived in Brazil, was completely embraced there, worked in favelas, such as City of God, spoke Portuguese and wore tiny Brazilian bikinis. I made a documentary on the Afro-Brazilian civil rights movement.
Like African-Americans, Afro-Brazilians creates the economic and cultural base for the country but suffered disproportionate marginalization. What was interesting was that unlike in the US the level of ambiguity over who was truly Afro-Brazilian or Black. Instead of Black/white dichotomy, they had like 32 shades.
Depending on what state I was in and whether my hair was blow dried or whether I had a tan or was speaking English, people’s characterization of me would range.. from branca to morena to morena to preta
Coming from a country with “one-drop rule”, this struck me as ridiculous but imposing our racial stratification on Brazil would likewise be imperialistic.
Note that neither system is right or wrong- both stem from the economic imperatives of the landholding classes intheir resppective countries. In Brazil, a Black majority necessitated the divide and conquer tactic. In the US, the one-drop rule enabled enslavers to extract more stolen labor from the relatively smaller African population, and in some cases, from their own, mixed-race offspring.
Given neither system is right or wrong, who am I to object when I get called morena, preta, parda, mulata and all these other adjectives they use to divide the skin tones we aggregate in an exquisite monolith of Blackness in the US?
From Brazil, I spent a big chunk of my time commuting to Africa, where I did economic development work. In Africa, they almost never would accept me as a person of African descent. Raised by a pan-Africanist father, I cried the first time this happened to me in Ghana. But by the time, I’d been to my 10th African country, the soreness had worn off. All these ideas about race and identity are more subjective and fluid than I realized, growing up in the USA.
For example, ironically…. in portuguese speaking Africa…. they lump me in with Brazilians due to my looks and accent. And because of shared histories of Brazil and Angola and Mozambique all being colonized by Portugal, everyone gets on like one big happy family.
Today, I live in Dubai, sometimes wear an abaya and say “inshallah” to my neighbors in regards to the uncertainties of life. Because of my name and facial feature, they also keep asking me even I’m really from the USA or if my parents are from this region.
None of these is my root culture but I do see the rich warmth, a common sub-saharan African openness, a type of southern hospitality that would be uncommon to most who have not lived in all of these cultures. Finding and feeling that warmth is a universal love that fuels my heart every where I go.
Its hurtful as a pan-Africanist to be told you are not Black. It’s also confusing to repeatedly not be seen as American when you are. But tapping into a higher sense of selse does make you less attached to all those markers of race and nationality, that some people are so attached to as signifiers of who they are.
It makes me wonder if people of the African diaspora are just more receptive to human connectedness because of some of the inherent elements of our culture….
Or…. is it the intellectual curiosity of American culture? The same spirit that drove people to take boats across the Atlantic and covered wagons to California and flights to join Peace Corp?
Or is it just the humility of knowing we are all God’s family in a bunch of different clothing…..
Or maybe that’s just the view from here…..