Recently, I watched a phenomenal movie titled Rabbit-Proof Fence about three aboriginal girls in Australia in the 1930s who were removed from their homes and placed into a boarding home with other aboriginal children where they were prepped to live a more “civilized” life among their Caucasian counterparts. The story follows these three girls as they make a courageous escape from the boarding home and walk (yes walk) 1500 miles to their home on the other end of Australia. The unique aspect to these aboriginal children, labeled the “Stolen Generation” was that they were all half aboriginal and half white, or what they called, half-castes. What I found ironic in the movie, however, was that the children were referred to as black children though there were not what in America we would call black, who are instead African Americans or those of African descent. These children were clearly darker in color and had African features, but did not claim to be African and were instead Aboriginal.
Browsing on Myspace, I found the page of Everlyn Sampi who played Molly Craig, the eldest of the three girls in Rabbit-Proof Fence. On her page, she labels herself as being a full-blooded black person. This might be confusing to an African American who would look at her and say that she looks more like a darker-skinned East Indian girl. However, following the label she was given in her society, she considers herself to be black.
Being an African American woman of mixed African and Native American Indian heritage, I have grown to become confused by the varying ethnicities and cultures that have had the label “black” slapped on them. It appears that anyone with dark skin and African features is black, which is used as a way to categorize a specific (looking) group of people.
When I was growing up, I understood that black wasn’t good. It was the opposite of white, which was pure, positive, healthy, etc. Black, on the other hand, was dirty, dark, ugly and wrong. Within my own culture, we discriminated against each other, placing preference on the lighter-skinned African Americans, while giving darker-skinned African Americans labels such as “tar baby” or “darkie,” all behaviors growing out of slavery (light-skinned or half-white slaves got to work in the house while dark skinned slaves worked outdoors and were treated worse). As I grow older, I see that while we’ve become more politically correct in our use of ethnic terminology, the underlying theme remains the same – if you’re dark, you’re black.
With so many cultures and ethnicities coming together in union, it is easy to look at person of African American, East Indian, West Indian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Aboriginal, or African decent and not know their nationality. However, unless we ask their ethnic origins, we will automatically give them the “black” label instead of celebrating their true nationality and ethnic background.
So while I can explain the true definition of being an American born person of African and Native American Indian decent, raised culturally within the confines of my ancestry, most of which pertains to the lifestyle and upbringing of former slaves, I can’t tell the world what it is to be black. As the world has defined it, being dark is being black, yet I can’t tell the world what it means to be an African, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban or Aboriginal. Therefore, I suppose there is no true definition of being black. There is only the true definition of being me.