Volume 90, Issue 82

Thursday, February 20, 1997



What is it to be black?

By Jessica Hood and Pam Rwankole
Gazette Staff

This feature is an exercise. It was designed for the reader to evaluate assumptions and concepts which underlie questions and statements made. Each of these questions may or may not have been asked to you and indeed we recognize that are not asked only to black individuals.

The term 'black' defines people who range in shade of skin from dark coffee to cafe-au-lait. There are individuals who define themselves as black who range in skin colour from Naomi Campbell to Mariah Carey and in appearance from Whoopi Goldberg to Amanda Marshall.

Question: What does a black person look like?

"Black" also covers a range of backgrounds. Within this group one may find a person of Jewish, black and Chinese ancestry, another of white, black and Latin American ancestry and another individual of native, Polish and African ancestry. In fact, any person of mixed decent possessing one black ancestor can claim "I consider myself black." To further complicate the matters, this definition is shared by individuals from varied countries and cultures with differences in language, religion, history and socioeconomic status.

Question : Do all blacks share the same frame of reference?

Given the above questions, people defining themselves as black have made contributions in a variety of areas: education, entertainment, medicine, journalism, art, literature, science and others. There is not only diversity in areas but diversity within areas. To illustrate the meaning, let us look at the contributions of blacks in the field of music. I will limit my evaluation to a few mainstream North American and Caribbean artists.

Jimi Hendrix (rock), Little Richard (rock music pioneer), Kathleen Battle (opera), James Brown (funk), Tupac Shakur (hip hop), The Platters (1940s), Luther Vandross (soul/R & B), Count Basie (big band), Oscar Peterson (jazz), Whitney Houston (pop), Bob Marley (reggae), BeBe and CeCe Winans (gospel), King Sparrow (calypso), Darius Rucker (new rock) and Living Color (heavy metal).

Question: What is black music?

As you can see there are no easy answers. Just as it is the case in any group, people within the black community are shaped by a multiplicity of influences and as a result the individuals are exceedingly variable.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997