What is Black?

Ah, February. The shortest month of the year (even during a leap year), which is also nationally recognized (in the United States and a couple of other countries) as Black History Month.

Originally celebrated as only a week back in 1926 (feel free to Google the history and process, as that in and of itself deserves a completely separate post, one day) I felt compelled to examine how our society defines “black” as an ethnicity.

To start, the original word used was Negro, not “black.”

Being that I live on an island where Spanish is the first language,  I want to first address this misconception:

Yes, “negro” is the Spanish word for “black,” but no, “negro” was not used in that manner for English speakers.

Here’s a history of words that people of African decent have used (or were forced to be identified as) in America and surrounding lands:

  • Nigger Slave/Property/Monkey (from the 1400s- early 1800s)
  • Nigger (1800s- early 1900s)
  • Negro/Colored (early 1900s- 1970s)
  • Black (1970s- present)
  • African-American* (probably 1980s-present)

*I say “probably” due to the backlash that blacks receive at times from those who are from Africa and migrated to America, who actually identify as African-Americans, and those who still prefer to call themselves “black.”

(And adding another sidenote* to that list above, people of mixed ethnicity were referred to as “muts,” and/or “mulattos, before the 1900s, an now identify as either “mixed,” “biracial,” or, depending on their preference and skin shade, still just “black.”)

blog post about defining black
Image photo credit: Sam Burris, unsplash.com

This is not meant to be a history lesson, but more or so recognition of an identity crisis.

Why is it that those of other ethnicities or nationalities (Latino, Asian, Caucasian, etc.) typically do not have to struggle with their history or heritage?

For example, the average Caucasian/White American (that I’ve met) has been able to explain their European heritage to the exact country, such as Germany, Ireland, Italy, and so on. Same for Asians, same for Latinos/Hispanics, etc.

Unless their parents or grandparents were born in a Caribbean island (Jamaica, Haiti, Bahamas, etc.), I have not met a Black American that has been able to do the same.

We know that Africa is of course the national origin of our ancestors, and possibly mixed with some specs of European and Native American decent (due to slavery), but for the most part, that’s about it.

So where am I going with this?

Nowhere. . . and that’s the point.

If majority of Black Americans have some type of mixed ancestry in their bloodline (and more importantly, that our skin is not literally “black,” then what exactly does “black” mean?

What exactly does “black” mean?

Well, we can define it in two separate ways:

  1. An obscure, hidden history in which no definite light has been shed on, despite our attempts through a semi-celebrated Black History Month, Historically Black Colleges & Universities, and unfortunately, stereotypes of specific behavior, representation, and cognition.
  2. Literally an absorption of every color. In that same manner, people of African decent having discovered, learned, and incorporated everything they’ve been exposed to into their own lifestyle (from our ancestors life on the Motherland to survival in America afterward).
    • cooking and coining “soul food”
    • Braids, twists, dreadlocks, bantu knots, and afro hairstyles
    • Hip Hop, Jazz, R&B, Neo Soul, Disk Jockeys, Mic Checkers,  musical expression
    • Break dancing, pop-locking, moonwalking, tap-dancing (do not add “twerking” to this list lol)
    • Long T-shirts, gold chains, loose-fitted jeans, and a fitted cap slightly tipped (ah the good ole days)

Phenomenal music video by Jidenna. Has great representation & symbolism of the history of black music & fashion. 


I recently had a Latino friend tell me he wished he was black (a random statement that took me by surprise). Before I took his statement the wrong way, I sat back and listened to understand (also because sometimes phrases in Spanish don’t quite translate correctly in English lol). He meant what he said, but didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t appreciate his culture. He just loved Hip Hop music so much, and felt compelled to shout that out when playing a favorite artist of his (Jay-Z I believe).

Despite constant affliction, demeaning stereotypes, constant (and evident) racism, and every other odd against us, we Black/African Americans (whatever you’re comfortable calling yourself) still continue to persevere and make ourselves known.

Yes, there are some things I don’t quite like that I witness happens frequently within population of my ethnicity (subtle issues of light-skin vs. dark-skin, glorification of single-mother households, mindsets of sports over academics as a “way” out of poverty, and so on), but hey, one day at a time.

What do I consider myself? Black, simply put. (And to the Latino community where I live, “morena.”)

Why? Because saying Beautifully Bronzed, Melanin Queen is too long for some folks to remember (lol).

~Ashley Amor

*Cover photo by Valario Davis on Unsplash