In American culture, ‘white’ and ‘black’ are crude oversimplifications, so why do we still use these labels? One answer is so African Americans—many of whom can claim more than one ethnicity and do not know their African country of ancestry—can have a unifying identity that acknowledges the history of slavery and continual injustice so people can talk about it and not forget it. However I wonder: what if the use of ‘black’ and ‘white’ perpetuate a binary system? The goal is to get equality between blacks and whites and also shed light on white privilege. With a binary system in place, all new babies born light or dark (with exceptions) automatically inherit their respective labels. People also inherit privilege and racism; but aside from that, they are inheriting labels at the society level in America. These two labels assign discourse, each separate from the other. So, in effect, physical appearance (these simplified color words of ‘black’ and ‘white’) STILL dictates what discourse applies to you, plain and simple. I think it is more useful to identify what we are trying to communicate with these labels, directly. What if we used the term “formerly-would-have-been-able-to-own-slaves” ? People, then, would have a much harder time denying white privilege. Or how about “descendent-of-genocide-survivor”?
In Latin America, there has already been enough racial mixing that you cannot tell just by looking at someone if s/he has a black or white parent or grandparent. Physical appearance of skin color is much less of an issue in Latin America until they come to the US- and people are surprised they speak Spanish if they have blue eyes and red hair or they have dark skin and an afro.
In modern days, you can find people of many ethnicities in any state of the United States, so much so that it is still relevant to claim your country of ethnicity as part of your identity. In African Americans’ case, what national identity can they claim if they don’t know what country their ancestors came from and their current country marginalizes them? Can Americans claim ethnic identities and still claim a national identity- American? I venture to argue that smaller nation-states have an advantage here, versus the US. The US has so many states that are diverse demographically and topographically: how will we ever understand or care about people’s needs that live so far away in different weather and economic climate that live in other states? People can live their whole lives in one state and never experience conditions in another state, yet we’re all led by one person, the president and one federal government.
Now, back to my original question: white and black labels? If labeling something gives it power, then do both groups get more power instead of equality in a shared conversation? Labels can be wanted or unwanted, but do/should people have to be loyal to them, even though they are the center point of national and local discourses today? Is it okay to use ‘black’ and ‘white’ as ethnicity labels when they only talk about physical color of skin and not country of ancestry? Share your thoughts !