The three major races of the globe: African, Asian, and European have developed distinct phenotypical traits due to being geographically isolated from each other for hundreds of thousands of years.
Undeniably, African people have a distinct combination of traits that define them as African: brown to black skin with African textured hair. Indeed, Africans who have albinism, a genetic disorder – are the only exception to the rule.
Yet, throughout the cannon of so called African-American literature, a hodgepodge of multi-racial writers: Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen and August Wilson – just to name a few – are presented as authentic African people who just happen to live in America, why?
Why are false African racial identities promoted in so called African American literature? This is the issue this article will discuss.
In any event, the controversy is new considering the fact that Africans: the Akan, Dogon, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Fulani, Igbo from time immemorial have always in their ancient art depicted themselves as having brown to black skin and African textured hair.
Furthermore, since I am a product of a large African American family, five siblings, I can declare without a doubt that there is “No such thing as a light skinned African American” for I saw no color or hair variation between me and my kin.
Indeed, for further proof, my father has twenty brothers and sisters; surely such a grand number of opportunities would illicit a cornucopia of hues and hair textures as Toni Morison in her book “Jazz as well as play writers Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles in their work “Shuffle Along” have implied. Yet – there were none.
So when I read lines such as:
“Her aunt had said brown; the beauticians said black but violet had never seen a light-skinned person with coal-black eyes.” (Morrison P.15)
I wondered where this term light-skinned came from? How come people with this color pigment were not defined as dark-skinned white?
Why in a play such as “Shuffle Along” are we told that the Black man is seeking a light skinned woman? When the vast majority of African / Black men choose women who resemble their mothers? Why is this woman promoted as beautiful?
Indeed, with a special focus on Toni Morrison’s “Jazz”, why are we told the truth of the racial identity of Golden Gray who is described as a mulatto but are left remised as to whether Joe and Dorca are black?
It is writing such as this that makes me suspicious of the aim of writers like Toni Morrison; a woman who I may add lacks brown to black skin. Should we consider Morrison’s own inadequacy, her feet balancing on the precipice of racial ambiguity? Does Morrison’s “Jazz” illuminate her own uneasy racial status?
Or is she promoting a broad definition of who is African, thus Black, to prostrate herself in front of the altar of European racial politics. For make no mistake about it, the misidentifying of a group so as to politically, socially, and biologically control them is the intention here, consciously or subconsciously.
Let’s be clear, European-Americans are descendants of plantation societies. Societies who bore citizens whom arrived on the shores of West Africa in the 15th century, settled, left, travelled back, traded, had mulatto children for they left their white wives in Europe, again were chased from West Africa, defeated, then left, sailed back to Africa with superior military technology, Christianity, worked with African traitors, enslaved Africans, raped African women, had non-African offspring, won more battles against African men, emasculated, sometimes sodomized them, and the few white men who developed the thoughts, concepts, and power structure of Europe and America, with the consent of the vast majority of the European poor and landless, benefited from the collective subordination of African people.
The question remains, within the context of the 15th to 21st century: What is the theme of all these works? How will African people look back at this time in their history? A time when, as some African scholars have described, a historical enemy was allowed to define them as a group, specifically, how they phenotypically looked? Why and how did such a faulty, indeed, disingenuous view of defining African people come to pass?
With literature being a person’s first foray into seeing different personalities; indeed, personalities to emulate, how destructive has this kind of literature been for African people who just happened to be in the United States of America?
Blake, Eubie, Flournoy E. Miller, Aubrey L. Lyles, and Noble Sissle. Shuffle Along: The 1921 Broadway Musical: Complete Libretto. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.