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What’s In a Name? What do you call “Black” People?


As Clinton referenced in a previous blog, the most commonly used terminology to describe two of the many races on the planet are “Black” and “White”. Clinton rightly pointed out that Black and White are not even colours, they are actually shades and we are all varying degrees of melanated. We are simply different because of a level of pigment and ease of sun absorption.

Being mixed race, I am usually lumped in with “Black” people. No one has ever said “the Lightskin cashier” or “the mixed girl at the table”. I am predominately referred to as Black, asked about my Blackness and my whiteness is tossed to the side. As someone who has had internalized racism, I never felt I fit in with the label of Black and I also didn’t want to. I knew I wasn’t white, and I didn’t want to be white either – I just wanted to be myself. Growing up around very few mixed race kids, I didn’t even have language for what I was. As I have said before in this blog, I just felt alone and othered.

Through trying to decipher my feelings about my identity, I raised within myself a lot of questions about the language used about my Blackness. Saying I am Black has always felt incorrect. I always qualified the statement by expressing I was aware there were Blacker people. People would joke about me being the whitest Black person they knew. Some would even correct me when I said I was Black, claiming I wasn’t, rather that I was mulato (which is a slur, it means to be mixed with donkey and if you didn’t know, now you do!), a “caramel macchiato”, halfsies. Have you ever had someone correct you on your identity? All of this led me to wonder how much of my sentiments towards these racial labels had actually come from how society is conditioned to view racialized people. What have the people around me been calling Black or melanated people, and how has that changed my own view of myself?

I remember my mom calling me Black and everyone else helping raise me, and being okay with that. To get a sense of the situation now, I asked the Black in the Maritimes readership to answer a small survey! Out of 33 respondents, 16 are white, 7 identified as Black, 1 identified as POC, 3 biracial, 1 African-indigenous, 1 white-arab, 1 metis/white, 1 “white passing”, 2 people didn’t respond and 2 non-sensical answers. 8 people said they call “Melanated people” Black, 14 said POC, 3 said they would use Visible Minorities and 10 people chose to fill in answers. To my relief, no one said “Coloured People” (which puts the colour before the personhood), “Blacks” which is just wildly incorrect, Lightskin, Exotic or Ethnic – phew. The 10 typed responses included calling people by their name, calling them their “friends”, trying to hone in on an actual country (like Haitians or Jamaicans), listing Black or BIPOC and my favourite: if their hair is kinky-coily ‘Black’ and if their hair is straight ‘White’…What?

I am comforted to know that with almost exactly half of the respondents identifying as white, 22 people said Black or POC which to me are the typical answers. I think POC is a great blanket term to identify someone before you know enough about them to actually say Black, Indigenous, Indian, South-Asian etc. POC is very safe, and polite, which is good. Calling people by their name is obviously wisest once you know it. I don’t call people I know by name by their race, identities or regionalisms. And to whomever said you call them your friends, that was heckin’ cute. What I will note though, is that in using Black (which 8 people said), they didn’t leave room for people like me who get lumped into that category. And while I am happy to keep the company of those labelled “Black”, as someone so heavily assimilated white, so widely educated on her Acadian heritage…if being Black is culture based then I am severely lacking. If being Black is based on melanin, then I could still be darker.

I’ve resolved to be okay with being called Black. I am happy to have the melanin and identity I have, but I am proud that it is more complex than that. There are layers to my existence, and while I don’t want to be the person saying their identity in percentages or referencing 23 and me, I will acknowledge that we are not just Black and white, we are not gray when we are mixed like Clinton pointed out, but we are varying degrees of melanin and I am happy with my shade no matter what you call me.

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