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Strange Associations with Black Folks

[ad#Link share in post google replacement]Now, for those of you who have never seen a picture of me, let me describe myself so you can understand what I am about to write.

I’m a not so tall white guy. I have brown hair, blue eyes with epicanthic folds (probably due to a bit of Native American blood) and most people guess that I’m around 28-30 years old even though I’m actually 38 years old. I’ve got a wrestlers build and even though I haven’t been doing any regular exercise, my biceps look bigger than they should. I’ve got a bit of a belly no matter what I do (even after Marine Corps Boot Camp when I was 18) and while I don’t see it when I look in the mirror, I guess I must be a little handsome or if I’m not, my personality makes me at least a little attractive.

strange black advertising
A napkin holder in Morocco

What I’m trying to say with all of that is that I am basically a white guy. So, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m writing this from any other perspective. In the good old USMC one of my nicknames was zebra because all my dark green friends (that would be black but a Marine is always green) said that I was white but I had black parts (um-hmm I don’t think they were talking about that part).

Now I’ve just come from living in North Africa where my wife is from and she and every other Moroccan it seems, do their best to lighten their skin. I had to throw out the skin lightening cream and assure her that I prefer her skin to be dark and that gets us into the meat of what this post is about. I’m amazed at the strange associations people have with black folks all over the world.

For instance, in Morocco people commonly think that it is a shame to be black. Black people are called Africans despite the fact that everyone living in Africa is really an African. My wife used to actually get mad at me when I would say she was an African! But I can tell you for sure, she is past it (and the skin lightening creams) now.

In Morocco, I had a number of students that referred to people from Senegal as African-Americans! A dim witted US teacher had told them that it was the right thing to call black people. I explained the difference and a little bit of geography.

One thing they didn’t call black people in North Africa was niggers, but upon coming to Turkey, I was incredibly surprised to find that Turkish people (like Germans and Spanish) commonly refer to black people as niggers. This, to me, is shocking and offensive but of course upon asking, it turns out that it is simply referring to black people by a term they know and not using a totally offensive hate filled word. Still, I’m telling my students that a better term is black.
negro cookies in Turkey
The funny thing is that they have almost no notions of black people at all besides what they see on TV since in Turkey it is quite rare to see a black person at all (in my experience). This is different from Morocco where black people are seen the way American’s see Latinos from south of the border. They see them as poor illegal immigrants trying to escape to a better life.

There isn’t really a point to this post. It’s simply that as an American, I find all of this a bit odd. To me, black people are simply people even if the Marines made me say they were dark green.

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Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

9 thoughts on “Strange Associations with Black Folks

  • September 19, 2010 at 2:23 am
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    Strange stuff., and interesting. My daughter in law tells me many women in the Philippines using lightening cream. Personally I think her skin is quite lovely.

  • September 19, 2010 at 6:12 am
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    As a black Jamaican living in Japan, who has travelled all over Asia I understand this post. I was playing with the thought of visiting Turkey next spring, now I am rethinking it. What can I say I wish more people would take a chance to know me before I am fitted with stereotypes because of this beautiful skin colour.
    I love your blog by the way.

  • September 19, 2010 at 6:21 am
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    Kim, Turkish people don’t have the same stereotypes. I think that they are just unfortunate in having the worst word possible be the ‘normal’ word. I know one man from South Africa who lives here and he tells me that he isn’t judged or discriminated against, people are simply curious because in many parts of Turkey they haven’t seen black people before. You should definitely bring your beautiful skin to Turkey! It’s a beautiful country filled with beautiful people.

  • September 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm
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    What I loved about traveling (B.C. = Before Children) was meeting and greeting, befriending, loving and the general people watching travel comes with. You notice strange and new kinds of people practice in all parts of the world – I believe it simply takes a person willing to look past ethnicity, skin colour and ahem… religion and get on about their day enjoying – relaxing and soaking up the culture around them – life is learning and doing –

    My hope is that my kids get to travel as freely and as much as I did and embrace change and difference with as much love and respect as the travelers before them.

    As for skin whitening – I understand its hitting pretty hard in Asia – being a white guy, albeit a tad taller than Vago, I don’t get wanting to lighten my skin, but the mindset of some people I believe is too media influenced to see the natural beauty we all have.. .ok enough of the mush – to each their own I suppose

  • September 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm
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    I think there are only very few Germans (mainly the older generation) that use the word “Neger” to describe black people – and like you said, it by no means has the same negative connotation that “nigger” has in the US. But then, Germany also does not have the same past with black people that the US does (e.g., slavery). We have a whole host of other subjects that are sensitive instead… Anyways, the big majority in Germany nowadays uses “schwarz” (i.e., black) just like many Americans do.

    On a side-note, I do not get why so many people in the US use the term African-American instead of black… as if black was somehow bad. It’s not like anybody calls white people European-Americans.

  • September 19, 2010 at 8:52 pm
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    @Sabrina – I still call them Colonists (Americans) –

  • September 20, 2010 at 2:52 am
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    Personally, I am a person of North European descent, and I find calling people black or white equally offensive. To me, describing people by their skin shade is always a linguistic action to divide people, to make them “the other” and not a person like the speaker.
    So how about saying person of African descent? Recent genetic analysis shows that people of European and Asian decent has shown a link to Neanderthals which is absent from African genetic lines. Maybe Africans should be called “The pure human race”, but I think that would not be progressive, but continue to mire all people in race politics.

  • September 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm
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    I think it’s a good idea to avoid both black and white. I just don’t like avoiding the former and embracing the latter. It implies an inequality that shouldn’t be there. African descent makes sense to me. Better than African-American which leads to crazy situations like Vago describes in his post where Senegalese people out of a sudden become African-American. Crazy world we live in…

  • September 20, 2010 at 12:23 pm
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    Personally, I think black and white are about the same as blonde and brunette, tall and short, old and young. We can use them to describe appearance and sometimes we have to. If you know two guys who are tall, dark haired, dark eyed, both thin, from the same city it’s important to be able to describe to a third party and if you can’t say that one of them is white and one of them is black…well, that’s just silly. The problem is really that judgments come along with the words. If I say black and you make a judgment based on that- well then we have an issue. If I say German and you draw a conclusion – that’s a problem. If I say short and you draw a conclusion – that’s a problem. If I say fat – well, it’s fair to conclude the person eats too much, but not that they are retarded. Do you see what I’m saying here? It’s the judgment that goes with the N word that makes it so incredibly foul in America, that’s the whole reason why the movement to adopt the word and change the judgment was taken on. Change the judgment and you change the word. Change the word and you change the world. By the way, I’m still laughing at how the colonist drafted every black person in the world into being American…just plain AWESOME. Maybe I shouldn’t have corrected them….

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