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Are we really so confused about race in America?
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Professor Locs, aka Charles Easley, is an educator who explores race, class, gender, sexuality, media and popular culture with humor and insight. His column is published here each Wednesday. Opinions expressed are solely his own. Click here to read his blog.

How many of you saw “Who is Black in America?” the CNN special that explored the concept of whether being black is determined by skin color, family dynamics or by what society says you are?

Well, Soledad O’Brien is back with her ongoing series, including “Black in America” and “Latin in America.” I believe there is a pilot program in the works called “Who Thinks They are Black in America,” narrated by the racially confused Keisha Cole.

I poke fun at Cole because she seemed to illustrate the running theme of “Who is Black in America?” She recently made news with her somewhat bizarre decision to not participate in “Black Girls Rock.” Why? Because she said she is bi-racial and uncertain that she is even a black woman.

I watched Keisha’s reality show and saw her mother. Boo, you are black.

A lot of the conflict explored in “Who is Black in America” stemmed from how people self-identify in comparison to how they were perceived by society.

We all have heard the expression, “It’s not what they call you but what you answer to that is important.” Well, I believe the concept of race is the antithesis of that expression. I can call myself whatever I want, but the reality is, I am perceived as a black man. And like it or not, I will deal with all the cultural luggage that comes with being a black man.

Case in point. Nayo was one of the young women featured on the program. She is bi-racial. Her mother is black and her father is white. She was raised by her father and, for the most part, surrounded by white people. However, she is light-skinned, with afro-centric features and spiky textured hair. So, without knowing her personal lineage, one might think she is a young black woman. The problem is that Nayo does not see herself as black.

“Who is Black in America?” did explore some of the historical origins of race in this country, a back story I believe is integral if we are to have any meaningful present-day discussion.

I attended a retreat on diversity several years ago and was thoroughly impressed with how the facilitators broke down race in this country. They submitted that the concept of race is more of a Western construct. Our nation was built by immigrants from many different origins, but in order to develop and maintain a Southern agrarian culture fueled by slave labor, folks had to forget their respective origins and take on the new title of “white.” This new label ensured the solidarity needed to manage the socio-economic culture that was established. This also established a ranking system where white is at the top, black is at the bottom and other ethnicities fell somewhere between, relative to their proximity to white.

Obviously, this historical cast system still has contemporary implications since we are still having this discussion.

On the rare occasion I forget that I am a black man, there is always someone or some occurrence that immediately reminds me. So maybe it’s not my issue.

Maybe the issue is not so much querying folks on their racial identity but bringing those concerns to folks who seem to be an expert on the subject.

Folks like the store owner who announces over the loud speaker, “Security monitor all aisles,” when you walk through the door; the club that allows two giggling coeds to enter with barely a glance yet demand that you and your party produce two forms of ID; and my personal favorite, the cab driver who not only ignores you but accelerates as you all but throw yourself onto his windshield like a human Garfield.

The issue of race is still relevant because, well, it is still an issue. But maybe, just maybe, CNN some day will run a similar program titled “Who Cares Who is Black in America?”



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September 2, 2014
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