Analyzing False Racial Identities in African- American Literature

By Bhekizitha

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 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, 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 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 light-skinned 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.


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.



One thought on “Analyzing False Racial Identities in African- American Literature

  1. Great piece of work. Clear, concise analysis of problems Afrikans face as a people. Perfect contextualising the current and prior Afrikan American, then relaying the brainwashing they have faced, for future waves of black people yet to be engendered. These subsequent generations will see mixed race people and Afrikans increasing differentiating and individuating since Euro-American have now permitted multiracials the right to their own multiracial identity in the United States.

    The whites and their offspring succeed in confusion, look at the race and identity confusion in North Afrika with Caucasian, mulatto and Afrikan claiming to be Arabs, Berbers and the original inhabitants. Look who holds power in North Afrika, the Caucasian, under them a lot of non-resistant, submissive mulattoes, who most times try to breed with white females and below the other two very few negroes who are also wholly loyal to the Caucasian. America is no different, the confusion over the decades has only increased the IMA’s grip on power in the nation.

    Liked by 1 person

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