How Do You Measure Blackness and Who Gets to Decide?

Written by on 2 July 2019

2020 Democratic hopeful Senator Kamala Harris’ ethnic background had been brought back to the forefront by none other than Donald Trump Jr. who questioned whether she is truly a black American since her father is Jamaican and her mother is Tamil Indian. Though this is nothing new for Kamala and other mixed Americans, where do we draw the line on who is black and who isn’t? And even more importantly, who gets to decide?

Kamala herself has said she is “black and proud of it.” If she considers herself black, shouldn’t that be good enough? Not really, according to the logic of some. To be considered black, you must have two “fully” or “mostly” black parents, right? In the view of some, that would make you a traditional black American. What if one parent is black and the other is half-black or one parent is black and the other parent is a different race? Well, you can be black if maybe you have more traditionally black features, or hang around mostly black people or “act black.” But, if you don’t have traditional black features, maybe you’re not really so black, and it’s more apropos to call you “mixed” or “bi-racial” or “multi-racial” instead of plain ol’ black. Do these characterizations diminish your blackness? The problem is trying to define blackness is problematic and, in the process, it can simplify the very complex matter of race.

Defining blackness is one thing, but who determines a person’s blackness? Other black people? Other mostly black people? Anybody who sees the need to quantify blackness? Or is it on you on how you view your racial make-up? Perhaps, the troubling thing with people like Kamala is that white people want to decide how “black” they are whether through stereotypes, ignorance or flat-out racism. Just the other day, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Cory Booker one of the “whitest” candidates running for the Democratic Party even though it’s established that Cory is “traditionally black.” Since he talks a certain way or carries himself a certain way, his blackness is called into question. This happens all too often and carries its own set of burdens as people try to shift their behavior to fit whatever box they have been placed in, which can hinder them from being their genuine self.

When things are all said and done, does it really matter who’s black and who isn’t? Is this something that we need to move forward from or is this something we need to continue to preserve our heritage? Weigh in and tell us how you really feel.

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