the measure of blackness

I know it's been long since I last posted but for a number of reasons over the holidays I took a mental, physical and otherwise break from everything. I think I am sort of back into the swing of things, school, blogging (maybe) etc.

So over the course of this semester I will be writing on health disparities in cardiovascular disease outcomes, particularly amongst black immigrants to the US and the influence of acculturation on health (I know, that was a mouthful). Some of the things I have come across is that relatively few people care about the health of black immigrants (seeing that I can't find that much on it) and that studies of black immigrants and their health could have some potential for addressing the health of African Americans.
In the course of digging through the literature for information on acculturation and African immigrants (I had to dig very deeply), I came across the African American Acculturation Scale, (AAAS) which I wanted to ignore at first, but sat down and thought about it for a while, especially in light of my own experiences.

I think of myself as a lot of different things, being a first generation American to African immigrants. In the United States, I identify myself as African American, not only in a literal sense, but also partaking in the African American culture which over the past 400 years has come to mean so many different things. I think the African American culture is one of the most diverse, seeing that it comprises of people like me, biracial people, and those who's roots can be traced all the way back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It took me a long time to realize this, especially while attending a predominantly black high school where most were from similar backgrounds and found it necessary to to categorize who was "black enough" and who talked or acted like white people. Needless to say, my accent and my inability to rattle off rap lyrics from the top of my head placed me in the latter category. Fortunately, there was a growing silent majority of "blacks" and "whites" at my high school who felt that the definition of blackness is quite flexible.

Apparently in academia, the definition of blackness is not as expansive as I and some of my high school mates believed. According to the AAAS, blackness can be measured in your thoughts toward traditional African American foods, willingness to date outside of your race, and political affiliations. Yes, I sort of see the rationale behind looking at these social and cultural aspects of race in order to determine willingness to engage in certain health practices. But there is a part of me that shudders at the thought of determining who's a traditional African American and who is not. And honestly, I think its somewhat outdated. It almost reminds me of a comment a teacher of mine made when I was in high school in which she wanted to find out if my family was "tribal." (yeah, she actually seriously asked me that - I was too stunned to give her a smart answer like if her family still lived in caves or waved the Confederate flag in front of their house or something like that).

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts on the subject, they may change over time or maybe I might find myself challenging these notions in a more public forum (meaning, beyond my blog).


  1. Comrade said...:

    A number of issues that you raised would be solved when the "Blackometer" is invented. This medical device would measure the degree of Africanness / Afro- Americanness / Whiteness in individuals on sight. Such a device could be worn as a wrist strap so you could examine anyone walking towards you before they get to you. It would make for easier relations between "black people".

    Anyway, I think we are who we are regardless of the environment we live in. How to exactly define /codify who we are is another issue entirely

  1. Beverly said...:

    I think people in general, don't know much about Black immigrants. I think the highest it ever made it to national consciousness was in Coming to America. I think its great you are shedding more research light onto health disparities. There have been a number of new studies that have really disturbed me, especially in relation to black women and cancer. =(

  1. nneoma said...:

    @comrade - please let me know when the blackometer or Africanomter, its across-the-Atlantic cousin, is released to the public. It would make my thesis project easier. I agree the environment has a large part in who we are. I think the question many social scientists and those in the health sector are trying to get at is whether culture, an aspect of environment, can predict whether one is prediposed to certain diseases. My hang-up is that in the process by which we get there. Tags or labels such as "traditional" African American irk me in the same way as "tribal" Africans. Maybe I am being too sensitive. Still trying to figure that out.

    @beverly - yes women of African descent and breast cancer is a HUGE issue. Not only in regards to disparities in screening and treatment, but it is also believed that our course of breast cancer differs from that of other races - thus making it even more difficult to catch us in the early stages. I wish I knew more about this, but if you are interested there is one lady in Chicago who is like the guru in breast cancer amongst African Americans and members of the African Diaspora. Her name is Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade. She has also been featured in popular press such as Essence (or Ebony, I tend to get them confused).

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:

    "As long as your a black man, you're an African" are lyrics to a Peter Tosh song that popped into my head. My Husband loves that song and I heard it all over the Caribbean over the summer.

    It is sad that in the fight over the small piece of pie allotted for us Africans Caribbean folks and African Americans fail to get along as they should in the US.

    Anyway, what is your these? Oh, just remembered why I stopped by. Could you email me please? solomonsydelle(at)gmail(dot)com

    Take care!

  1. found your blog via afropolitans...i like...will add you when i am not so lazy (working on personal statement-this is a procrastination technique)...are you studying public health?...i just got my mph and found similar issues/disparities...was actually considering trying to write an article about health disparities and the way people are categorized (racially/ethnically/whatever)...

    ...anyway, recognized similarities in your experience as in mine (my parents are also naija and i was born and raised in the us)...i actually blogged about something similar a few months your blog and will be back...

  1. nneoma said...:

    @solomonsydelle - just sent you an email....thanks for the interest

    @guerreiranigeriana - thanks for the compliments. i did not know until now that i was listed on afropolitans. i have secretly wanted to be listed on their website for the longest...i hope my giddiness won't get me kicked out. just added your blog to my blogroll because not only are you a first generationer but you also value the use of ellipsis...i think even more than i do. but yes, the cat is out of the hat (or box, don't remember), I am doing an MPH and will be finishing this May. If you are interested in writing about disparities for like an editorial or magazine or something - I will be more than willing to dedicate some of my procrastination hours towards that effort....

  1. yay!!!...a friend and i were tossing some ideas around...i will email you soon with some details to see if it is something you would want to work on...what is your emphasis?...biostats, epi, intl health?...

  1. Juliet said...:

    i really like this topic and i think it should be discussed more often. when it comes to being "black" i have so many opinions and thoughts about that...
    hopefully a debate can ensue, in which i would gladly jump into!...but then again, i might not...