For African Americans, there’s no such thing as just being black anymore, almost all descendants of slaves have some amount of European blood cursing through there veins.
It’s gotten to be a habit now, I guess I’ve been diving into my family genealogy so much I can’t stop now… Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I try to look into their past. I look deep into their features, staring down into their history to see if I can tell where their genes originate from. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If I asked, “Aren’t you related to the (fill in the blank) family over in Culpeper?”, nine out of ten times you can bet I’m right. Or, I will do what I did with a former co-worker some years back. We were sharing an office and after an acceptable amount of time of keeping my thoughts to myself, I just came out with it, “You look Scandinavian, is your family of Scandinavian descent”. And as is the case when I ask most non-blacks that question, he answered, “Well, yes, but I guess you could say I’m actually a mutt, my mother is from Denmark and my father’s side of the family is from Germany”, then he went into even greater detail naming several more European countries as being part of his lineage. I listened intently and decided that I’d give it a try too. So, I responded, “That’s interesting, I’m part Scandinavian too and I’m also part Irish”. My new office-mate leaned back in his chair, let out a big guffaw, then turned to me and retorted, “Yeah, right!”.
He hadn’t believe a word I said. He didn’t believe me? “No, it’s true!”, I defended my position, “My great-grandmother came directly from Ireland during the potato famine”, he didn’t let me finish…. He got up from his desk and stuck his head out into the hallway, “Hey Everybody! Stan says he’s Irish!” (followed by laughter). To him I was just a regular black guy and I guess regular black guys are just that, just Black!
Mombasa Kenya, 1976 – I thought I was tracing my roots, but I learned that they stretched much farther than I could ever have imagined at the time
There was no convincing this guy that I had anything other than African blood cursing through my veins. It was time to educate this guy. I said, there are white people mixed in on all sides of my family, all sides. You do realize that I am a Virginian who has roots that go well back into slavery, don’t you? That means that there is a 99.9 percent chance that some master had his way with a slave girl somewhere in my family history and produced at least one mixed race child. My great-great-grandmother on my father’s side had reportedly nine children by her slave master. It may have been consensual, it may not, but being that she was a slave and he was her master, and that she was his property, that kind of makes it non-consensual no matter how you look at it. I could see that recapping of my family history to this young man was falling on deaf ears, he wasn’t having any of it. It looked to me like “The One Drop Rule” was alive and well, no, thriving would be a better word. You know the one drop rule, if you have one drop of black blood, that makes you black, there’s no middle ground.
That brings up my Barack Obama issue, to me Obama is the only real African-American I know of. His father was born in Africa and his mother was born in America. But here lies the rub, that means, he’s not really our first black president. Because to me, I thought our first black president would have had at least an inkling of what it was like to come from a heritage that included the shackles of bondage, be someone whose roots bore the baggage of slavery. But that is an entirely other story, I won’t even deal with that right now, that has nothing to do with this story.
But I guess in a way it does, because being born with the baggage of slavery and baring the shackles of bondage is almost a thing of the past. At the end of the day, we are all Americans and at the same time we are all mutts. As an African-American I want to feel as free to detail my multicultural heritage as my former office-mate did. I’d like to be able to list all of the places my family hails from without fear of, well, simply not being believed, that would be nice. While we’re still a long way from someone actually wondering, much less asking, what my heritage is, the day has come where I am free to share and be proud that the making of me was a global endeavor, I’m not just a one hit wonder, Africa. To most people a single glance tells them all they need to know. They think that the mere sight of my brown skin, hair texture and broad features gives them the full scope of my family tree. But if we look deeply within ourselves, we may find that our roots reach out to almost every continent on the planet. If they do, we should at least be aware of them and we should embrace them all.