The fried-rice-and-chicken-wing-theory of Blackness gets too much shine at times. We’ll dig deeper into that point later.
I want to continue my thoughts from earlier today about Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation by asking a silly question: what is Blackness?
Also, what credentialed person or process gets to determine someone else’s Blackness?
I’m referring to the people who are quick to be arbiters of Blackness and have severed connections to African history and its diasporic fruits along the way.
I’ll start with a video, and then share a personal story.
Here’s Bruno Mars playing the timbales with his father, Pedrito Hernandez, on congas. Mars’ brother Eric plays drums.
Every bit of that — from the polyrhythmic patterns to the call-and-response — has African roots.
And like I mentioned in my previous piece, Bruno Mars is completely aware of that.
So, you have a Hawaiian-born Puerto Rican Filipino — where much of the Borinquen part of his heritage was permanently shaped by centuries-long exposure to West Africa, knowingly playing rhythms of the Motherland, but someone gets to throw a random judgement call on social media about his connection to Blackness or Black music?
That’s about as silly as removing Joe Bataan, Mongo Santamaria and Candido — all artists who’ve proudly played Afro-Latin forms and even merged them with R&B and Jazz — from the African diaspora and branding them as non-Black appropriators.
By the way, Bataan, Candido and Santamaria have publicly acknowledged the African roots of their culture, music and race.
The discussion of African roots brings me to the story I promised.
I was speaking to a cashier I had previously met several times, who asked me one day what I was up to.
I told her that I’m making cow foot soup at a friend’s request, and will need to buy the ingredients.
She then said “How come you don’t cook Black food?”
“What do you call black food?” was my curious response.
She mentioned fried chicken wings and fried rice from a neighborhood Chinese food joint.
Some of you would’ve walked away at that point, but I gently explained the Afro-Carribean roots of the dish I was cooking. Not sure she became fully convinced.
My point is that we have an alarming number of Black folks who are quick to wield the “Not Black” brand stamp whenever they encounter anything outside of their personal experiences.
I still remember the time when a Black, Harvard-educated lawyer with a White Mom and Kenyan Dad was paired with the insinuation that he’s not “Black enough.” We all know the rest of that story.
But this entire debate is meaningless since arguing about Mars’ blackness doesn’t change how the Black infant mortality rate is twice that of Whites, or Black net worth — with partial thanks to predatory lending and redlining — is criminally low.
Instead of debating skin shades, accents, dress codes and school pedigrees among us, we should invest time helping children understand history and the Black race’s place within it. Providing these children with tools for personal empowerment would also help tremendously.
When I last checked, delegating Black history education to school systems hasn’t worked out well, and many so-called educated adults don’t know much beyond Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama.
A real education in Black history and empowerment sure beats investing 26 minutes on this …
song currently stuck in my head: “crate diggin’” – fantastikclick and sport g