My existence is a life-long treasure hunt.

Black Experiences

I’ve had some links saved for awhile about black experiences around the world. So now I’ma just put it all in your face in one massive post; interesting parts bolded by me.

Black Hispanics in the US

What’s behind the confusion? Why is it difficult for people to grasp the concept that one can be both black and Hispanic? I’m sure much of it stems from the idea that all Hispanics are mestizo, or Spanish and Indian. There’s also ignorance about how slave traders brought Africans all over the Americas and not just to the United States. And because many Latin Americans don’t classify citizens by race and black heritage isn’t exactly coveted in the region, some black Latinos may not openly identify as black despite the evidence in their hair texture and skin color. (Cuban Marianne Pearl is a case in point.) Complicating matters is that in film and television, black Hispanics are often cast as African Americans rather than Afro-Latinos, adding to the group’s low-profile.

But it’s not just whites and African Americans who seem baffled by the existence of black Latinos. In Los Angeles, a black Puerto Rican friend of mine reports being given the side-eye by Mexican Americans when she speaks Spanish to her fair-skinned mother. I’ve also seen this play out when I lived in El Paso, Texas, and a Chicano coworker remarked that a black Panamanian woman we knew spoke beautiful Spanish. Well, why wouldn’t she speak the language flawlessly? She grew up in a Spanish-speaking country.


Click the title link above to see anthropologist Bobby Vaughn’s fascinating research on the Afro-Mexican population in various Mexican regions.

Being Black in Spain (Translated from French, so some of it may read a little funny)

Marcia Santacruz is chocolate coloured. Black like her father and her mother. Black as her grandparents. But apparently, in Spain, clothing, education and money determine the level of melanin. They nuanced skin tone. The Afro-Colombian, who came to Madrid to complete a Masters in Public Administration, said: “In the Spanish mind black is synonymous for domestic work, poverty and lawlessness. In their subconsciousness, they can’t believe that there can be a black latina who speaks about Sartre.

For there was a time when the Spaniards (white) rubbed their eyes in seeing them. Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, writer and minister of the self-declared government of Equatorial Guinea in exile, based in Madrid, arrived in Spain when his country was still a Spanish colony. A province on the African continent, one hundred percent black. In a recent article entitled Una nueva realidad: los afroespañoles (A new reality: afroespagnols), the Equatorial Guinean wrote several anecdotes of his early years in the white territory.

For example: “Older women who, at Christmas 1965, ran, terrified and scared to see me in a city within the Levantine region, laying hands on her head and cried a black, black, My God, a negro! “[…] My classmates had scratched his head and hands with their fingers and were surprised they were not stained black.

Black Russians

Some of you might have noticed that on my profile I list Russian author and poet Alexander Pushkin as one of my interests. Coming from a family that kept me well informed about the African Diaspora, I was fascinated to learn that not only is he considered the father of modern Russian literature, but he just happened to be of African descent. He caught some flack for it, but he was darn proud of it all the same. His writing was unique in that he often wrote in the way that the common Russian people spoke, the vernacular (think Zora Neal Hurston and how she used the real lingo of the folk down South). As a youth, I imagined what it would be like to go to Russia and study his work and visit his old hangouts. The palaces, the villages.

Then I found this book by Yelena Khanga, Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family 1865-1992 and it blew my mind, for several reasons. For starters, just look at the title! She’s Black and Russian and American. How? Well, the book went into this in detail, starting in the U.S.A. with her African-American grandfather and Polish-Jewish immigrant grandmother. They married, moved to Russia on invitation, and had a daughter. That daughter later on married an African Muslim political leader who just happened to be studying in Russia and they had a daughter – Yelena Khanga. (If you didn’t follow all that, even more reason to read the book!)

Imagine what it was like for this Black Polish American Jewish woman growing up in Russia? Now read this book and count how many assumptions of yours fall to the wayside. Don’t get me wrong. Just like EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD, she witnessed ignorance and prejudice, but interestingly, much of it was not directed towards her or anything having to do with her family’s African descent. Furthermore, in the course of her Russian upbringing she became a world-class journalist.

Black and Chinese

The 20-year-old daughter of a Chinese mother and an African-American father who left the country before she was born, Lou was a highly unusual entrant to Shanghai-based Dragon TV’s Go Oriental Angel. Her appearances…have provoked a storm of abuse on the internet, a rare debate on racism in the media, and a bout of self-examination in a country where skin colour is a notoriously sensitive subject.

The China Daily newspaper also published a sterling defence of the young theatre student, written by one of its top columnists. “There are two factors at work here,” wrote Raymond Zhou. “Lou Jing is not a pure-blood Chinese and anyone who marries a foreigner is deemed a ‘traitor’ to his or her race. More relevant, Lou’s father is black.”

Chip Tsao, one of Hong Kong’s leading columnists and cultural commentators, believes that a child of a Chinese woman and a black person hits all the buttons that cause prejudice among Chinese. “It’s an obnoxious novelty,” he said, adding that Chinese prejudice against black people was part of “prejudice against people less well-off than themselves”.

There was, he said, greater acceptance of Europeans because they were viewed as successful, but mixed Chinese/white European couples frequently attracted racist comment.

One leading actress, Jiang Ziyi, who has an Israeli boyfriend, has routinely been accused of betrayal for consorting with a foreigner. A stark reminder of official racism came last year when Ding Hui, of mixed Chinese and African parentage, was barred from representing his country in the national volleyball team.

Afro Turks

Who are these people? Mehmet, Ali, Ayşe, Rabia, Arzu, Emine, Hatice and Hüseyin, to name a few. Everything is typically Turkish except for one detail: They are black. Afro-Turks, as they prefer to be called, are the descendents of African citizens of the Ottoman Empire. They have come together under the African Solidarity and Cooperation Association (ASCA) to revitalize one of their oldest traditions — a holiday celebrated by their grandparents: Dana Bayramı, or the Calf Festival.

Mehmet Konaçer enjoys dancing the traditional folklore dances of the Aegean area and he performed a dance for the crowd at this year’s Dana Bayramı. As with every teacher, his students coin nicknames for him. “They first used to call me Clay [after the famous African-American boxer Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali]. But nicknames come and go. As other blacks become famous, the nickname my students choose for me changes,” he says.

Being “different” has, however, also led to discrimination. The society at large holds many misconceptions about Afro-Turks. “Our interviews show that Afro-Turks living in villages do not feel discriminated against. They are not labeled as the ‘other’ or excluded. In a village, everyone has known one another since birth. Cities, on the other hand, are a different matter altogether, though Anatolia is still a land that is able to absorb a variety of cultures,” Kayacan says.

Ayşe Sözer, a young Afro-Turk, says that Turkish society does not have a racist approach, but that sometimes the Afro-Turk community does experience “exaggerated interest” and social discrimination from society. “I am asked many odd questions; for example, some ask if I get whiter by taking baths. Sometimes people stare at me and end up tripping or bumping into a pole. I have learned to not get angry at people, but when I was at the university, my roommate left our dorm room because she said she was afraid to live with someone that is black,” Sözer says.

Sometimes people have a hard time believing that Afro-Turks are Turks. On one occasion, Sözer was shopping in Denizli and the shopkeeper, mistaking her for a tourist speaking in perfect Turkish, tried to complement her by saying she speaks Turkish better than him, a native Turk.

Locals in the Aegean region also have some superstitious beliefs about “black people.” Some believe that if they see a black person and pinch the person next to them, their wishes will come true. Sözer recalled one case in which two ladies pinched each other upon seeing her. She was understandably upset. “I told the ladies that if they really wanted their wishes to come true, I also had to pinch both of them! They accepted and I pinched them very hard,” she says, laughing.

Apart from being the focus of some superstitions, most Afro-Turks say they have never been humiliated or discriminated against by the society. However, overcoming prejudice while looking for someone to marry is not as easy as one would hope. Kayacan notes that sometimes the family does not approve of their son or daughter marrying an Afro-Turk.

Afro-Turks are often called “Arabs” in Turkey. They also refer to themselves as Arabs, at times. This has led to a situation in which “Arab” means “black.” Ege University Professor Ahmet Yürür explains. “For the Turks, Africa was only the northern part of the continent: from Egypt to Morocco. This part was of course under Arab influence. Turks were never really interested in the south of the continent. This is why this community has come to be called ‘Arab,’” he says. (Gem: Wow.)

Interesting stuff. The similarities across the world are amazing, but each region has its own cultural influences that makes it distinct also.


Comments on: "Black Experiences" (15)

  1. This one really resonated with me – I can’t stand the census-type forms that have the bubbles ‘Black, not Hispanic’ and ‘Hispanic’ on them. WTF are you supposed to do if you’re both? I usually just bubble in both or multi-racial if there’s that option.

    I always get stabby when someone compliments me on my Spanish and they know I’m Latina – I’m like, why shouldn’t I speak Spanish, my mom’s MEXICAN fool! But then again, there’s 100% Mexicans and such that speak no Spanish whatsoever. So what, they’re not legit or something?

    My Colombian ex broke up with me because I wasn’t ‘Latina’ enough – whatever the fug that means. I spoke Spanish better than his ass, knew more stories, more songs and more food. Isn’t that what culture IS? If I ever see him again, I’m stabbing him in the throak.

    Sorry dude, you just hit home with this one.

    I still luh you tho!

  2. I’m not sure why I’m apologizing it’s not like you hurt my feelings or something.

    Apologizing for the long comment? Wait, no, I don’t usually apologize for that.

    Apologizing for threatening my ex? DEFINITELY not, I wish the hell I WOULD run into his ass.

    Okay, forget I apologized. Okay, I’m out before I start making even less sense.

  3. Hey if I hit home that’s a good thing! I was hoping to hear from you and the other 2 black Latinas/Hispanic women I know from blogging. Apology forgotten! The black Hispanic experience fascinates me because in so many people’s eyes, you’re EITHER black OR Hispanic. And to be Hispanic means to be close to white *cough SAMMY SOSA cough*. Black Americans often embrace reggae music and Caribbean black culture, but don’t equally embrace the black Hispanic culture as BLACK. Interesting. Hey, I updated with a link to Afro-Mexicans (in Mexico) if you wanna have a gander. That link is super interesting.

    • Hey, Gembo, I likey this post. It really made me think more about some things and it made me think about other things that I have never thought about. I have never really thought about how folks of African Descent are treated….now, a big part of that is that I don’t consider us (Black Americans) to be the same people as the African folk that never got brought over to the new world to pick coton and sugar cane and stuff. I mean….culturally we have very little ties because the white people didn’t allow it. So, hearing about the experiences of someone from Nigeria that moved to Uzbeckistan does not really hit home for me.

  4. I used to take my kids to central park every weekend before I bought my car. I got tired of people asking if I was the nanny, so I stopped going.

    Not sure if that means anything to anyone, but it hurt my damn feelings after the 30th inquiry. Just because my kids don’t look like me, are much prettier than I will ever be, have nicer skin, hair, teeth and bodies…does that mean I’m soul-less and not related to them?


  5. Um even if I wanted to be all hoity-toity and say “I’m Latina, not Black!” my afro would be all, “B*tch, stop lying!”

    Dominicans ARE Black; the sooner they accept that ish the happier they’ll be. Like me 😀

  6. (great post, by the way…never knew about Black Russians. Well, the people. I knew about the drink, which tastes like ass. But I’m sure the people are nice. I’m going to stop typing now…)

  7. “Some believe that if they see a black person and pinch the person next to them, their wishes will come true.”


    Thank you for sharing! This was a great post!

  8. Wow, awesome post girl!

    I remember I interviewed a friend who is El Salvadorian/Bolivian and he explained the racial prejudice that seems to carry over to so many cultures. We came to the conclusion that the most hated on people in the world are usually either gay or have dark skin, no matter what race, ethnicity, religion etc.

  9. ali la loca said:

    Super interesting post, Gem. Adding to the complexity is that Afro-Brazilians often don’t self-identify as Latinos (the same goes for Brazilians of any race really – they are lumped in the Latino/Hispanic category here in the US and totally don’t identify with it). Although the awareness of and pride in being Afro-Brazilian is certainly much stronger than in, for example, Mexico…

    A very good friend on mine who was working in Moz is from the US, the daughter of a Japanese mother and and African-American father. Oh, if you could only have seen the questions she got in Moz. “What are you?” was definitely the most common, which understandably irritated the hell out of her and to which she’d respond, “Human!” She also spoke at length about the difficulties she and her sisters faced growing up in a traditional Black neighborhood in DC – the rejection from both sides of the family’s supposed communities, and having to forge a path basically her own in terms of identity.

    Great post – thanks for the food for thought.

  10. This is an excellent post!

    Even though I learned about the African diaspora at a young age, it wasn’t until I started to actually see people who were descendents of this movement, make me fully realize what was going on. At Spelman, there are many black Latinas, and one of my really great friends is a very dark Panamanian. Another one of my good friends is Puerto Rican. Out of all of her siblings, she is the darkest one with the curliest hair, and her mother treats her differently (in a bad way).

    It’s also very interesting to see people in other countries who clearly have African ancestors, but aren’t quick to admit it…even though they might be darker than myself with/or have facial features that reflect their African ancestry (i.e. Cambodians…Southeast Asians period).

  11. Loved the Afro-Mexican link! So fascinating! Although I’m not truly Afro-Mexican like they are, it’s so cool to read about their experience. I don’t know about you, but so little attention was given to the logistics of slave trade in school that I was sort of brought up to think that there were only a few slave boats and they all came to the United States. How ignorant, right?

    When you think that there were thousands of boats and they came to all parts of North and South America and the Carribean I am at once supremely saddened yet fascinated to learn how each group made the existing culture their own.

    That’s why you’re so awesome! You find things like this and make my brain grow!

  12. K-Breezy said:

    awesome post.

    Cas is one of the most beautiful ppl i know, and so are her kids. ppl are just so ignorant. i cant stand it.

    aside from the race issues, i’d like to address the fact that no one likes americans, no matter what colour your skin is. and thats a FACT.

  13. Great post, I think the problem is that a lot of people don’t know the difference between Race, Nationality, Ethnicity.

  14. Burly Boheem S. Brolicton: I know a lot of people (including myself) who consider African and Caribbean black immigrants culturally distinct from American blacks but it’s amazing to see how blacks (no matter what the recent ancestral ties) are treated in various parts of the world.

    Cas: Was it mostly white or black people who would ask you that? That is really a damn shame. I thought it was bad enough when mothers were asked if their kids were adopted, let alone the damn nanny. In NY of all places too where the population is so diverse. Houston may be in Texas which is, well, Texas but I could not see that happening here.

    Jaded: I know right? Black Russian population is like aarf? I want to read that book mentioned though. You need to go on an Accept Yo Blackness Dominican tour.

    Toy: HEY! Thank you for visiting! Yeah that part and some of the other superstitions were like O_O

    Chanel: Thank you! Yeah the dark skin hate is definitely visible in all cultures; the ironic thing is I think black people have the least trouble with this due to the period of “we are one” etc. Not to say it still doesn’t exist but not the same as the other cultures.

    Ali: I have always been fascinated with the Brazilian concept of race and especially how they are classified here. There is really nothing for them to mark or claim on the Census except Some Other Race or multiple races. I think the government doesn’t pay attention to culturally distinct groups until they are present in extremely large numbers like Hispanics. I often say that West Indians and Arab/Middle Easterners are culturally distinct enough to have their own ethnic groups recognized like Hispanics, but their numbers aren’t great enough.

    BCU: Yes Asians with African ancestry needs to be studied more. Even Southern Italians; where parts of Italy refer to south Italy as basically Africa. This has inspired me to do more research of the traditional Diaspora and areas we would never think to look.

    Desiree: Aw, thank you! *high five*

    K-Breezy (I can’t.): Blatant rudeness and ignorance makes me sick. The thing is, Americans who travel (in general) are usually the douches. More of us need to travel however we can wherever we can to see the world and to show another side of American tourists.

    Beauty: Welcome! Thank you for visiting me! This is VERY true. I just had a discussion with a guy I know about this. He was upset that people consider Hispanic/white relationships as less interracial than black/white relationships. I said well technically depending on the Hispanic ancestry (over 50% identify as white) they ARE less interracial by definition but they ARE CULTURALLY distinct (ethnically, nationally) which is just as important. The problem is people dismiss the importance if “race” isn’t tagged on.

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