New Alpha Unit. My Mom works on the board of the Madera County Mental Health Committee. She has her reasons for doing this, which I don’t need to go into. There’s a Black woman on there, older, and pretty funny like a lot of older Black women are. One day she said something like, “I’m Black, or colored, or Negro, or African-American, or whatever the Hell they are calling us nowadays.” I was reminded of that when I read this post. On my birth certificate, issued way back in the early sixties, my mother is declared to be Colored. So am I. I remember hearing my grandmother talking about this or that “colored man” or “colored woman.” I have a distant memory of hearing my mom refer to a “colored” nurse. My earliest school records refer to me as a “colored” child. So I grew up thinking of myself as colored. I have a vivid memory of realizing that I was Black. I was just a little kid, but I can clearly recall James Brown declaring triumphantly through the radio, “Say it loud–I’m Black and I’m proud!” It was roughly the same time that I was hearing “Black is beautiful” all around me. It was a great time to be a little Black kid in America. I was Black all through high school. Everyone was conscious of the need to affirm Blackness, even the White people who ran the school district. So in my high school, it wasn’t enough to have a homecoming queen. We had two homecoming queens–a Black one and a White one. There wasn’t just one girl voted Most Beautiful; we had to vote for a Black one and a White one. Wherever possible, we had to have racial equilibrium. Some time after I entered college I became, for official purposes, African-American. I still don’t know how that happened, actually. I kind of remember the first time I ever heard the term “African-American,” although I have no memory of how or where I encountered it. I remember pondering it for a little while, the way you would examine something interesting you had never seen before. The only other thing I can remember about it is wondering whose idea it was, and guessing, in my youthful and careless way, that maybe it was Jesse Jackson’s idea or something. All I can say is that I hope we’re done thinking of things to call ourselves. I don’t care a whole lot for “African-American,” really. It’s kind of meaningless, since Africa is an entire continent of disparate peoples. I have a feeling that some time in the future someone will decide we should be called something even more interesting and specific. I have a nostalgia for “Black.” I became Black at a very special time in my life. It was Beautiful, something to be Proud of. That’ll do nicely.
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