This Hour: We need to recognize diversity within Blackness

Sophia Ibrahim

There is a narrative that all Black people in the US are a monolith. It is assumed that we’re all of American Descendant of Slavery (ADOS) ethnicity and that all Black people subscribe to certain views, like favoring hip hop music and voting blue. While nothing is wrong with identifying with these cultural strongholds, the act of generalizing such a large and diverse group can have many problems. 

I will be using the term Black to describe all who originate in Africa and present racially as Black, and Black American to refer to those with ADOS ancestry.

The idea of Black people being a monolith forces all Black people to be put in a box. Unfortunately, this can be seen affecting interpersonal experiences between Black people, as well. 

As a first-gen Somali-American, I know that oftentimes Black Africans can feel excluded from Black communities in America due to significant cultural differences. Many Americans push this narrow idea of what Blackness is, yet simultaneously expect any person that remotely looks Black, regardless of nationality or origin, to identify with that term.

While a lot of times, “I’m not Black” can be rooted in self-hatred and anti-Blackness, there can also be a cultural element to it. Although the “I’m not Black, I’m Dominican” joke has been circulating social media for years now, a lot of times, if you asked a Dominican, they would most likely freely admit they have African blood in them. They might not say that they’re Black, but they’ll acknowledge that they have African ancestry. 

Some people might be quick to say that people like these are self-hating and are trying to distance themselves from their roots, but it is oftentimes simply a cultural difference, where they view the term “Black” as referring to Black Americans. These community divisions are further perpetuated and worsened by American media, which communicates an Anti-African sentiment to Black Americans, and vice-versa. 

There are two things that I believe would help allow for diversity within the Black community. 

People of all races, but especially Black people that aren’t Black American, should recognize the impact that Black American culture has on their lives. For example, certain ways of dress, AAVE, and music genres such as jazz, hip hop, and rap are all specifically descended from, and distinct to, Black Americans. One cannot say that Black Americans have no culture in the same breath of using AAVE and talking about the latest Kid Cudi performance. 

Black Americans have every right to gatekeep aspects of their culture if they feel others are not respecting it, or even if they just want to keep its usage specific to themselves.

Also, everyone should be able to use the identifying terms that they feel best suit them. For example, many of my Somali family members will say that they’re Somali instead of Black, even if most of them present as so. This is because they don’t want to use a term that originated from colonization and serves no purpose in their life. In a country with little racial diversity, it is much more useful to use tribal membership to identify oneself. 

Even if my Somali family members came to a place where they were the racial minority, they should not be forced to use a term that has roots in colonization and no connection to their culture and previous experiences in their native country. 

The construct of race is ever-changing and has been shown to hold less and less purpose in society in recent years. By allowing people to identify by ethnicity instead of race, we will gradually reduce the influence a colonial, oppressive system has on our lives and reclaim the vibrance of cultures throughout the world. 

Black people are not a monolith. In order to respect them, you must allow them to express their individuality. •