I used to listen to Bob Dylan a lot and, at that time, I would drive a friend of mine to and from work. She wasn’t a fan of Dylan and once asked if I had any black music, so I whipped out Miriam Makeba who I really, really loved. My friend was upset because this is not the kind of ‘black’ she was talking about.
When I think of this incident I think of this division between black and colored and although it may not be a division that others make it is a division that I acknowledge when I say I am not black, I am colored. It is not that I wish to deny my connection to my ancestors or other people of color; on the contrary, I honor them, my ancestors and the people. Rather, I make this distinction because of the associations that ‘black’ represents.
As a colored woman I have freedom, the kind of freedom my people died for, the kind of freedom that barriers were broken for. The freedom to vote, not the way a ‘black’ person should vote if they want to maintain their identity, but the way one would vote if they exercised free will. It is the kind of freedom that is exhibited when one is able to consider the politics and select the politician who might best represent what they, with their accumulated knowledge, understand to be correct. As a ‘black’ person, there is no such freedom. Today, you vote democrat and you are included as an identified other when people speak of diversity. As a colored girl, I am diversity, whatever room I enter, I bring diversity with me.
When I think of my ancestors who were enslaved, I think, not of their victimhood, but of their strength. I think of the connection between their teaching of the children and the teaching of the drum. There is an insistence on learning to behave correctly and on learning to pay attention, not merely to self, but to others. I think of the importance of this teaching in my life and that I do not envy those who do not ‘have’ to think this way. So many idealize this lack of concern as if it were privilege, I, instead, think of it as arrogance.
There is significance to the meeting of my Nigerian, Kenyan, Ghanaian, Guinean, Congolese, Sudanese, Scottish, German, Scandinavian, Spanish, Cherokee, Indonesian, and Chinese ancestors. It has power, collective power, it is my power. I think, not that this was a dilution of race, but the creation of something strong. I, as a colored girl, am not limited to ‘black’ music that is so narrowly defined that Miriam Makeba does not make the cut. For my ancestors’ sacrifices I can stand, although for what those who have popularized their ideas and determined identity based on the declaration of those ideas, but also on what I know is true and correct based on my teaching, my understanding, and my love. This desire to take-on the ignorance of the global north where black people fight for their right to be included, this is not what I understand as freedom. I understand freedom as this ability to stand as a colored woman in the wisdom of my ancestors and the love that created my life as diversity embodied. Where my life, as a personification of diversity and not some gimmicky movement or required class that fail to include the true other, can exist.