Can black people be oreo cookies?

25 Aug 2005

"None of us is responsible for the complexion of his skin. This fact of nature offers no clue to the character or quality of the person underneath."

--- Marian Anderson

How do you define being black? Is it strictly the color of your skin? Is it the culture in which you’re raised or is it the pain you feel for your ancestors who fought so hard for you to earn the right to be free? I don’t know exactly, but at least now we have that freedom to share ideas and talk about what our blackness means to each of us.

As black people do we have the right to discriminate against each other when we complain so much about other races discriminating against us?

Some of us do not believe that they are black. But should we discriminate against them or try to help them? Some say we should ignore them since they have chosen to no longer be with us. Others believe we should accept their faults. In both situations we are ignoring the issue at hand.

I have been made to feel that I’m not black enough. I have been told that because of my light complexion, I look bi-racial. I have been compared to an Oreo cookie; black on the outside and white on the inside. On one occasion, I was told by a black girl that I looked Asian maybe Filipino. These definitions of blackness are even affecting the way black men and women relate to one another. I remember being blatantly told by a friend a few years ago that he doesn’t “deal with black women,” because once they “look at the clothes I wear (old looking Tommy Hilfiger jacket, Gap jeans), and listen to my awkward-sounding voice, they conclude that I’m not black enough.”

The concept of an Oreo cookie is just the modern-day version of what Malcolm X talked about when he said “when you have some coffee that''s too black, which means it''s too strong, what do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak.”

Some of us black people now feel that if you resemble anything white, you somehow are one of them and not one of us. It’s a battle line clearly drawn. ‘Either you’re with us or you’re against us!’ Out there within the society, this battle seems to be between the blacks and the whites. We were enslaved and colonized by the whites and therefore became accustomed to their rules and regulations. Since then we have always wanted an identity of our own, something to separate us from them completely. We want our own culture, our own style, our own businesses even our own education through black colleges that are still prevalent in the U.S. This issue gets even more complicated when one examines Malcolm X’s philosophy on the ‘House vs. Field Negro’. In his words, “[the House Negro] lived in the house with master [and] loved the master more than the master loved himself.” While the Field Negroes “those were the masses. There were always more negroes in the field than there were negroes in the house.” In today’s society some blacks are told that they act ‘white’ and are compared to the House Negroes and the masses are still the Field Negroes. But what is acting “white”?

In all of this, what seems to be forgotten is that white people do not have exclusive claim on certain things. We as black people should have the right to be any way as we see fit. This is where the true strength lies since versatility provides a solid foundation.

Perhaps, the key concepts here should be that one cannot judge a person by their looks, how they dress or how they speak. There is no definition of blackness and no definite way of assessing blackness. Blackness is a state of mind and each of us must remember Marcus Garvey’s words “the Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”