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Who is “White” Anyway?

In a recent conversation with some (white) friends, I was asked who I thought was “white” and admittedly I was stumped. I sure know I am first to scream that I am Black, to say my lightskinned-ness is more than enough to be considered Black. I have been picked on for it, called racial slurs, felt akin to “Black” culture, to speaking AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) amongst other Black people, doing “the nod of acknowledgment” around other Brothers and Sisters. All of this, especially since starting racialized podcasts, has affirmed my Blackness. We rarely ask, who is Black, because most times it is an increase in melanin we can see with our eyes. Though after our conversation with Alisha McManus we know Black people can be white passing, white people can be raised by Black people and be indoctrinated to the “culture” and people would maybe judge their allyship, their knowledge, their desire to wear braids as appropriation when they really are a part of our community. So, if Black people can be – not just melanated people with roots from a specific region – but also lightskin people, whitepassing people and to some degree Black “culture” spilling over to white relatives…who are White people?

When I was asked this question, I immediately said Caucasians from the Caucasas mountains, without even really knowing what that means. Caucasian is defined as being white-skinned, of European origin, or from Caucasus mountains, partly in Southern Russia. Now, as Clinton has pointed out, “white” and “Black” are not correct. We are various shades of pink, brown, yellow, olive, red, purple, no one is actually as white as a sheet of paper or as dark as night. As I started thinking about it, I definitely felt white people were from European descent, though we call Italians and Greeks “spicy white” to indicate they have some amount of melanin. There also seems to be this resounding joke that you’re obviously white if you’re from Ireland, let’s say, because they are jokingly known for their love of potatoes which seems like a white thing, whereas the use of flavours in tzatziki may indicate that Greeks have a slightly more elevated palate. (I’m currently typing on eggshells to say that, jokingly, people think the whiter the person, the whiter and more bland the food and culture, sorry about it). I was asked initially if I thought Hispanic people were white, and I didn’t and don’t. I believe they have melanin, and being Latin American is certainly not the same as being European. So we’ve established that being White means European...but being Black isn’t just being African. With so much wide spread travel, mixed families, can being White, Black, Asian, Latin etc really be measured by location?

Now, where this discussion gets even trickier is when we look at the people inhabiting the Caucasus mountains. The Caucasus mountains doesn't only cover Russia but also Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia. While I know little about those countries, I know that other than Russia I fully believe those countries to be middle eastern and have melanated people. The concept of Caucasian people started because there was a belief that humanity had begun in Caucasus Mountains, and that “the most beautiful humans” were reputed by Europeans from Caucasus. So we say Caucasian is synonymous with White Europeans but not only is it based on the idea that humans as we know it started in that region (false), and that they create more beautiful people (debatable), they aren’t even white! Furthermore, since then we have learned that humanoid forms as we know it post Neanderthals were started 300,000 years ago starting with a woman in Ethiopia, so sound the alarms, we’re all Black, and no one even IS white.

At this point I am reminded again of Clinton’s blog, that really…shouldn’t lightskin people be Gray? Shouldn’t we all be degrees of mixed? No one is truly white or Black. I feel most white people immediately answer about their origins by saying Italian, Greek, Canadian. I don’t know many people just saying “I’m white” as if that encompasses their entire story, family or truth. Even Black is a blanket statement to define a group of people that were forced to be labelled differently. When you speak to us, we rarely say “I’m Black”. We launch into history, culture, story, we talk about generations of immigrants, of slavery, of heroic tales, of mixing cultures. We also rarely can just say we are a colour to really highlight the truth of how we identify. Maybe it is time to abolish “white” and “Black”? Maybe we need to get to know the people we are speaking about so well we can say they are Armenian, Lebanese, Senegalese, Jamaican because we are speaking about people we actually have a rapport with. We’ve already agreed that trying to define someone by saying “oh, it was that Black cashier” is inappropriate if we can use other words such as “the woman with the pink braids, the blue sneakers, the red lipstick" and avoid skin colour if necessary. Maybe we need to continue that trend of labelling people as they define themselves ethnically and culturally instead of with blanket "shades". We are all unique, yet all one in the same and so, who is white, who is Black…and really who cares?

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