Back When I Was Negro

Posted: August 16, 2013 in #31WriteNow Challenge, Current Events

I was Negro when I was born in 1957. Back then, some may still have referred to my brown family as good colored people. Back then, Black was hurled as an insult. Negro, the Spanish word for the color black was how slavers referred to captives during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Back when we were considered livestock, or product, not people. So in August 1957 I was a Negro baby. My birth certificate proves it. Then, in a decade, Negro went from galvanizing, to polarizing. We went from Mr. Sidney Portier to Mr Huey P Newton.


1968 Olympics, John Carlos, Tommie Smith

By the mid-late 60’s through the early 70’s we were Black, along with EVERYTHING that went with this new found self-definition. Our pride roared in with an unapolegetic vengeance. Huge Afros, unapologetic attitude, nonconformist philosophy. We were righteous, conscious, and fashionably defiant, no one could ignore us. Everyone thought we were always mad, but that was also such a joyous time, to be unabashedly PROUD. We had been upstanding and humble for such a long time. Being “Black” meant truly owning and inhabiting our rights to navigate this planet of the United States. Black, the English translation from the Spanish word Negro.

To be Negro became an insult, a slur, for the “overeducated, uninformed, left behind.” The term Afro-American got kicked around too. But for whatever reason, it was superseded by Black, maybe it was too long for Mr James Brown to put in a song.

Is there some official ” Federal Bureau of Blackness” that determines these things? Who really decides and who defines us? Then with the late 70’s African American came into vogue.

Now Black and African American co-exist, sometimes slipped in together in the same sentence. Like mixing stripes and prints. In the last few years, another new term, People of Color is creeping in, and it’s actually been around for 30 years in other countries. So now  we’ve come almost full circle, instead of Colored People, now we’re People of Color.

Six different terms for the color of our skin and our ethnic identity in over six decades. We were Colored, then Negros in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, when racists just wore country boy clothes and moved blatantly out in the open.  Jim crow cavorted  proudly in his overalls, and hooted and hurled the N-word with happy idiotic abandon. George Wallace proudly proclaimed “Segregation now, Segregation forever”. It was amazingly OK to publicly talk like that back then. Then in the 70’s through the early new millenium, blacks and whites formed an uneasy, flimsy, fragile truce. Mr Crow just changed clothes into a suit and tie, and hid behind coded words and symbolic gestures.

One last thing, about Jim Crow’s attire. Please consider this: Racists wore hoodies long before we did. A good Klansman always topped off his robe with a matching hooded, hat. Yet we have to school OUR boys, “wear hoodies at your own risk.” This constant  need for adjustment also unhinges  the glue that holds  People of Color together. We’ve got discontent as we struggle with our own self definition. Like growing pains, we push against the constraints of constant reminders of the fact that we’re “Those Other People”, uninvited guests in our own country. Who’s Black enough? Who’s too Black? We’re one of the few ethnic groups who continuously have to transform ourselves based on the latest current event, no wonder we have an identity crisis. History just keeps updating and repeating itself.


Angela Davis, Toni Morrison

The election of a Black, African American, part Kenyan, part Hawaiian, brother from Chicago, mulatto, mixed-race, Person of Color, Swag President in 2008 resurrected an all familiar phenomenon; it pulled blatant racism back into the spotlight.  This time racists claim it’s not racism, just something else: Like Loosing their rights, or the Unites States becoming “UnAmerican.” “He’s a Socialist.” Or this one:  Racism thinly disguised as blatant rudeness. Sometimes it’s so overt you have to check the year on your calendar. Their biggest beef which always sounds nuts is that HE’s divided the nation, it’s Mr Obama’s fault, not theirs. There’s something hauntingly familiar about this.

Racist logic has always gone like this: Anyone who stands up against racism, or strongly advocates for social justice, and civil rights, is UnAmerican, and that twisted logic has been applied ever since people like Mr. Nat Turner, Mr. Douglas, Queen Madame Tubman, Mr. Robeson, Mrs. Parks, Mrs. V Liuzzo, Mr. Schwerner, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Chaney, and Ministers M. X. Shabazz, and M. L. King all decided they’d HAD it, and took action.

Or take Mayor Bloomberg and his dismay about the recent censorship of his beloved “Stop and Frisk” law”. He just can’t seem to understand that being on the receiving end of Stop and Frisk could cause psychological damage. The privileged class always navigates with the blind entitlement of “free movement”.  They have no idea what it’s like to be perpetually treated with suspicion, or the need to codify certain behavior, and then carefully teach it to your children so they know what to do if they’re ever stopped by the police.

Fortunately, the common thread that runs through the constant need for re-invention is resilience. We’re pros at this game of living “Back to the future.”

Day 16 of the #31WriteNow Rantless blog challenge.

  1. PETRONIA says:



    • Lavellplw3 says:

      “Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was it our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continue to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate” Bayard Rustin. They did their job. Now, we can’t let ourselves be defined by anyone or any term at all. We have never been just one thing. We just have to understand that. You stand in the mirror alone. Act like it.


  2. Great points, Shannyn. I had a similar conversation with a person NOT of color the other day. Pretty enlightening stuff here.


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