Wednesday, September 01, 2004

What AM I?

I was adopted by an African American family at age three. Add that to the fact that my features are that of a person of African descent, growing up I was part of the population that would check the square indicating "black" whenever I would fill out a form where I was asked to indicate my race. At some point it became more politically correct to call people like me African American, so when the term on the form changed, so did I.

Now it seems that maybe I may have been checking the wrong box all along. Especially after reading this from Stuart Buck's blog.

For a moment, the Ethiopian-born activist seemed to melt into the crowd, blending into the sea of black professors, health experts and community leaders considering how to educate blacks about the dangers of prostate cancer. But when he piped up to suggest focusing some attention on African immigrants, the dividing lines were promptly and pointedly drawn.

The focus of the campaign, the activist, Abdulaziz Kamus, was told, would be strictly on African-Americans."

I said, 'But I am African and I am an American citizen; am I not African-American?'" said Mr. Kamus, who is an advocate for African immigrants here, recalling his sense of bewilderment. "They said 'No, no, no, not you.'"

"The census is claiming me as an African-American," said Mr. Kamus, 47, who has lived in this country for 20 years. "If I walk down the streets, white people see me as an African-American. Yet African-Americans are saying, 'You are not one of us.' So I ask myself, in this country, how do I define myself?"

The New York Times article Buck references points out that some people believe that the term African American should only apply to those Americans who are descendants of slaves. (What about that Mrs. Heinz Kerry?)

Now here is my dilema. In my adoptive family, my 96 year old grandmother is the daughter of a former slave. Thus, she can use the term "African American" in almost any circle. And because of my features, I too would be thought of by most people as the same.

However, now that I have discovered my birth parents, and have learned that my father is native Nigerian, there are some who might deny me the right to call myself "African American."

Hmm- I was born and raised in the United States. And I am definitely from African descent. But maybe I should switch to Nigerian American? It doesn't roll off the tounge as easy, but it could work and it is probably more accurate.

WAIT- I'm also half Irish. Black Irish? No- they were those Irish people who supposedly had Spanish (or Italian) ancestry.

How about Nigerian-Irish-American? Nah- too long. Plus, I don't think they will have a check box for that one.

How about "Other?" Nah. Takes too long to fill in the blank.

Pehaps, I'll just stick to what I say when people are crass enough to ask me what I am. I usually just smile and say, I'm an American. I guess I'll have to leave the little boxes blank.

UPDATE: Here is a really good piece on this issue for anybody interested!

UPDATE 9/8: Welcome if you are coming from the "Carnival." PLUS, a big P.S. I couldn't be more proud of my Nigerian and Irish heritage and I am looking forward to learning more about all sides of my super-family!

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