This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

January 27, 2009

Come Back, Black

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — pprscribe @ 9:46 am

It’s high time for “Black” to make a comeback.

“African American” had its day. It was always a little contrived, cumbersome. All those syllables. Couldn’t shorten it: “AA” was not specific enough, even when it was understood the subject was ethnicity. (“Asian American”? “Armenian Argentinean”?) When not talking about ethnicity, people probably assumed “AA” stood for the 12-step program for recovering drinkers. On some college campuses it was shortened to “AfAm” as in “AfAm Studies.” That never caught on in the general public, however.

All those syllables…and sometimes, some people stumbled over the second one, not knowing whether to go “-fro” or “-fri.” Must have been confusing because “-fro” was in at one time, too.

It was supposed to connect all of us to the Motherland, give us a reference to a geographical location that was forcibly taken from us as a result of slavery. But as we came to know about others in places other than the United States, some began to search for a term that would unite us all. “Diasporic Africans”? Whew, all those syllables. (Not to mention “diasporic” sounds a little like medication one might use to cure athletes’ foot or something.)

As we came to know more about human origins, we found out that really we all are from Africa, us humans, somewhere deep in our DNA.

So “African American” at once described not enough people and too many people.

No. “Black” was good. And it is time for “Black” to come back.

One simple, melodic syllable. Start with a b in a kiss, roll the tongue to the roof of the mouth–just behind the front teeth, a brief sigh (“aaaaaa”), then end with the back of the tongue touching in back of the roof of the mouth. Bllllaaaack

Of course, for many, “Black” never went anywhere: “Don’t call it a comeb(l)ack…” It was always there–for exclusive use, or as an alternate label. Sometimes mushed together with other labels with a slash. But it was out of favor, it seems, for “official” use. Probably not on the census form.

Who is “Black”? Well, that is a discussion for another day. But we have a feeling it is about choice and constraint, and history and experience, and diversity and tradition. It is, perhaps, more malleable than we might have thought in the past. But it is also a term that is not to be given out to just anyone. It is not as if one could take a test using the spittle from the inside of the cheek and decide “I am Black.” Yes, and you always had a feeling, and you have always had an affinity for the culture and the music and you tan well in summer but no, that does not necessarily make you “Black.”

There definitely will be some kinks to work out with “Black”–some unchecked baggage, too. We’ll get to that in time.

But for now, ring the bells and shout it from the mountaintops. Say it loud. Capital-b “Black” is back! And lookin good, too.


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