Reflections on black

| Staff Columnist

Mike Hirshon | Student Life

My skin tone is a shade in between a raw umber and chocolate brown. On most forms, I am guessing for demographic purposes, I am Black/African American. Since elementary school, I have had this notion that February is a month for Black History. This year, as I grasp at threads to try and understand my identity, I find myself a bit perplexed.

Inspired by the linguist professor of one of my classes, I am trying to define a word that is often used as a modifier to describe me. And while it may seem to be easy to categorize “black” in a very general and broad sense, as someone of African descent whose skin tone ranges from deep tan to espresso, the reality of such classification often goes unexamined. Classification gives distinction to things and, by that understanding, acts as a construct needed by society to characterize a seemingly defining difference.

It is easy to recognize the historical momentum that continues to propel every individual in the present. The effects of African-American slavery still ripple through our society today, in actions that lie somewhere between racism and discrimination. This, in turn, has created a culture that its constituents have had, initially, little say in establishing. The harsh truth is that for many, being born black in America does not mean being born into equal opportunity. Frankly, just living as a black person in America, whether one is born here or not, is enough to feel the ramifications of the African Diaspora centuries ago. These repercussions continue to perpetuate characteristics of the aforementioned culture that very few black people have had the opportunity to create or change—and how one can even intentionally begin to change such an amorphous thing as culture is way beyond my understanding.

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It is frustrating to witness the progressiveness, justice and equality our modern society ardently claims to have reached being undermined by the stark realities of such issues. It is vexing to see that “black,” a word that is often tossed around to describe people who can be so diverse, culturally, economically and socially, actually make sense. It is a twisted perspective from which no one should be comfortable viewing things. Being “black” in America is being different. To clarify, my point is to draw your attention to the fact that our society finds it OK to distinguish someone based on where they fall in a range of shades on a color spectrum.

Such classifications reflect poorly on our (American) culture. Sadly, it makes me question the degree to which we can we quantify the progress this country has undergone in the last 50 years in terms of racial equality. Honestly, a social construct is created by society and we still find it necessary to categorize people based on their skin tone (and gender, ethnicity and religion for that matter). Although intrinsically we all are equal, we currently don’t live in society where this equality is recognizable. It makes us want to try and define where this difference lies, not in the sense of causality, but in terms of what part of the population is affected by this discrepancy. I am not trying to say that seeing difference denotes inequality, but rather, to illustrate that the fact that the need to classify and tabulate this difference may be a reflection of the growth our society has had when it views race and other demographical standards: that growth is not nearly enough.

  • AJ Sundar

    Well-written article, and superbly illustrated.