... the other Black experience

Black , brown, or yellow-- are we all in the same box?

Black people come in a variety of skin colors, from dark brown to light brown — the key word here being “brown”. Yes. Despite the fact that we are called “black” our skin is actually brown. Even the darkest of “black” skin is an ebony tone. Similarly, our hair texture varies from the very tightly kinked to the very loosely waved. To put it plainly there is great subtlety and genetic diversity to people of African descent. Given this, I often wonder how we came to be crammed into one box and labeled “black”.

Black, brown or yellow-- are we all in the same box?
Words Leila Noelliste for

I’m not sure of the origination of the term. The word “negro” — used in reference to black Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement — is Spanish for black. Is this how people of African descent chose to refer to themselves prior to slavery/colonialism? Was the term “black” self-imposed. I couldn’t find the answer to that question… but a large part of me really doubts it.

I sometimes feel that the term “black” serves as a contrast to other ‘peoples’… a lower peg on the color scale. It is a natural counter to the term “white” (another questionable label, since no person is actually white.) Because of the terminology, “black” and “white” people are often perceived as cultural and physical opposites. Genetically, of course, this is TOTALLY not true… but the power of wording makes it culturally true for many people.

Being in a community of natural women has made me feel that “brown” (or any term that isn’t “black”, lol) is a better descriptor — just as “kinky”, “curly”, “coily” and “wavy” are far better descriptors of our hair than the term “nappy”.

Within black culture we have come up with our own ways to describe our color variance, like “yellow bone” and “redbone” and (in Jamaica, where I grew up) “coolie” and “browning”… but I’ve often heard these terms used in derogatory fashion or as a slur against darker-skinned women (pointing out what they are not.)

So perhaps the whole “naming system” when it comes to black people needs to be overhauled.

What do you think? Do you ever wonder about the term “black”? Does it make you uncomfortable in any way? Does it matter to you at all?

Views: 906


You need to be a member of AFROPUNK to add comments!


Comment by Audrey Johnson on July 15, 2011 at 12:06pm
Honestly, I don't really care. Black or African anything is fine.
Comment by Dasan Broadnaux on October 26, 2010 at 10:55pm
I dont like the term black. In America when you are labeled black its like someone cutting around your culture. People dont care where you are from it just matters if you are black or not. Mostly "black" doesnt even apply to african or caribbean people. It is used for someone that looks african or caribbean. I am half Puerto Rican and half Bajan and I am labeled black all the time. Its just bad when people disaccount your heritage just because of the way you look.
Comment by Lloyd Lacy on October 22, 2010 at 3:28am
I dislike the term Nigger. Negro isn't okay unless it's a Spanish person speaking. Personally I feel we have a unique culture different from Africa. While Africa may be the motherland. We are unique in the fact that we are a mixed people. Were not "true Africans", we are born here in America and the islands around it, plus were mixed with other non white peoples like the Asians for instance. We shouldn't divide ourselves. Even Africans are mixed. I've seen Africans whiter than white and Africans darker then dark and all in between. There are Africans that pass for Asians. White people live in Africa too, They are known as the "Boers" Also there are Black people who are dark but their DNA is genetically European etc. We are a diverse people. Every other country other than Europe is naturally diverse and we all come in different sizes shapes and colors. Europe is the ONLY naturally homogeneous country out there.
Comment by oilkanlarry on October 20, 2010 at 7:05pm
Personally I dislike the term the Negro as much as I dislike African American. At least with Black(negro) I can associate it with something completely American. The other part it dumbs down the unfavorable names that come up with the divisions within the race. I can be light enough to pass as biracial, and my best friend is a darker tone brother but we are still black brothers. When I was in high school I was referred to as the paper bag and everything else and of course it was assumed I was stuck up based on the names pegged. The same go for African Americans. How many Caucasian people you see actually say IRISH American or GERMAN American. My people on both sides (Indian also) have been here longer than many people who clam American. So for me none of these terms fit fully.
Comment by weallfail on October 10, 2010 at 7:12am
I did some digging and tried to come up with my best possible explanation for the word "negro" to give a likely explanation for the questions posed by the author.

To try find the origin of the term "negro" I have only heard of a couple of explanations of the word. The Spanish word "negro" came from the Latin "niger" and "nigro" both meaning "black" and "to be black" respectively (University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary). However, Romans simply called Africans "Afer" or Maurus (as in Moors). (The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen pages 52-54) So that leads us to where the term "niger" came from. In Martin Bernal's Black Athena Volume II (pages 95-97) and in the aforementioned book they give a couple of explanations. One of Bernal's hypothesis is the term originated from a nomadic people from present day Libya called the "Nigretai -- whose beautiful blackness was the source for the Latin word niger." (Black Athena Volume II page 96) Another possible explanation, and not completely unrelated is that the Semitic word "

So to answer the questions:
"Is this how people of African descent chose to refer to themselves prior to slavery/colonialism?" For people living in Africa my guess is highly unlikely. Even those growing up in Latin derived languages probably referred to themselves as African or whatever their tribe or nation was called at that time.

"Was the term “black” self-imposed?" From the etymology of the word up above it is clear that the word "black" derived from Semitic or other origins originally refers to the people of the Saharan desert. My guess is that Romans later ascribed the meaning black because of their skin. So the term black. in my opinion, was never self-imposed.

Terms such as "Black" or "African" are always "too broad" or "too narrow" for describing people; they will always offend someone. Whatever, people want to call themselves should be up to them and should apprise others if they dislike being called "Black" or any other term. Personally I think naming systems and conventions when it comes to people useless as these are static and people are always dynamic.
Comment by Chaz Maknubiia on October 10, 2010 at 6:14am
James Brown made the term "Black" popular. Jesse Jackson solidified it. The descriptive terms does make a diffrence. Why? People are not crayons, but they are tribes and nations. Some may not care what they are being called. But, it makes a diffrence in LAW. Black is not a Noun, its an Adjective. This had nothing to do with racism...but its does have a lot to do with statutes, privledges, and codes..Blacks dont have RIGHTS...they have privledges...another perspective!
Comment by Ghettopunkrocker on October 10, 2010 at 12:34am
It's 2010, we're still on this shit?
Comment by Halwah Ali on October 9, 2010 at 8:44pm
It doesn't bother me being called a Black woman. I kinda have an issue with being called African American in general because yes, way back when my ancestors were indeed African, but I have no connection to the homeland.Being called Black and African are such broad terms. In terms of ethnicity, idk what 'black' people are because so many of us are mixed with Native American, Irish, and Caribbean, that Africa just doesn't fit many anymore. It shouldn't matter what we are called, only what we answer to because every day is "a great day for black people of all races."-Chief, Undercover Brother
Comment by Kylie Volatile on October 9, 2010 at 2:14pm
The terms "Black" and "White" "Red" and "Yellow" were labels created hundreds of years ago by people who couldn't think of a more accurate label to describe different races. They weren't intended to be derogatory but I can understand why some would still take offence to them.

I have no problem with being called a black woman. I prefer to called a Caribbean woman because it is more accurate but I also know that in the predominantly white (sorry...European) environment that I was born and raised in, very few people can tell the difference between a West African person and a Caribbean person. Very much in the same way that very few people can tell the difference between a Japanese and a Thai or between a German and a Russian.

The point is, these descriptions have been around for a very long time and it is going to take a lot of education, understanding and time before anyone can come up with more accurate descriptions without offending anyone or splitting hairs. The first step towards this is to lighten up and stop assuming that a word is offensive just because a moment of ignorance caused it to be incorrectly used. That's just ignorant!
Comment by Mayo R. on October 9, 2010 at 9:36am
Articles like these grate my nerves. It reeks of someone with color issues. If we had problems with calling ourselves black, it would have been addressed during the civil rights movement. There was nothing derogatory about it, that word had us united in a way that we need to be now. If you don't like the label, get off the boat. This is a 24/7 situation. "Either you is or you ain't, we don't need anyone counteractive toward the struggle." Civil rights for us are already backwards enough as it is. Case closed.....moving on....

The label of being black. Yes, there are lot people that issues with skin color. Many of them are our own people(praising light skinned and being "mixed" like there is something wrong with not being either). That is something that needs to be worked on by us. People can call themselves what they want. Not having a sense of self and pride is so much worse. Too many don't love ourselves and each other because of what we've been conditioned to believe in the media and over generations. Learn to love yourself and you might be happy to be "black" and "nappy." Some aren't strong to handle the weight of it and that's alright.

I'm sorry to write a thesis but that's what came out of me. ; )


  • Add Photos
  • View All

© 2017   Created by Matthew.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service