Rambligs about race and identity

The problem of identity is a complex issue when it comes to Cape Verde. Especially if your ancestry is from Brava and Fogo you will inevitably come to an undeniable question; What does it mean to be black or white? The business of genealogy implies the chance that you will find a person or branch that will make you question the core of what you always thought you were.

America has long established “rules” for identification. The one drop rule automatically defines us as black in the United States. Having one white and one black parent makes you black. Having one grandparent who was black makes you black. We self-define in this way without hesitation. I agree that if I were to go around telling people I was white even through the majority of my genes say that I am, people may question my sanity.

After getting the results of my autosomal DNA test, I had to take a good look at my family tree. The majority of my maternal and paternal lines are clearly European. The majority of most Cape Verdean family tree’s are going to reflect similarly to mine.

When I was younger, we would joke about those brown skinned Cape Verdeans who refused to identify themselves as black. They wouldn’t identify as white, either, necessarily. Their answer was always “I’m a Cape Verdean”, end of story. It makes sense to me more now after all these years of research. How do you embrace one part of you and disregard the rest?

I can’t disown my European heritage just as much as I can’t my African. I refuse to ignore my white grandmother in favor of the black one, and vice versa. They each loved me and I loved them.

Cape Verde’s slave history is undeniable. I will not excuse any of the evils of slavery. Slavery in Cape Verde was not better than slavery here in the US. The atrocities of slavery in the US happened in Cape Verde, as well. Slave holders here didn’t necessarily recognize their off-spring legally and very rarely were their liasons with slave women looked at as bona fide relationships. We all know about Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson but they were definitely the exception.

The Portuguese had no problems with having relationships with African women. Many of the europeans were exhiled for certain crimes like practicing Judaism or were political adversaries. Once in Cape verde, most stayed beyond the original sentences and established families and other ties. They did recognize their children from these liasons and their children would inherit from their parents and carried their father’s names. In my own tree, I have found actual marriages between “black” and “white” ancestors.

I understand now why some people only reply “Cape Verdean” to self identify. To be a whole person means embracing all parts of oneself. My ancestors have made me who I am – all 68.7% Tuscan Italian and 31.3% West African. I am an American of Cape Verdean ancestry and all the things that brings with it.

And I love it!

One response

  1. A “very complex” issue is right! Marilyn Halter’s “Between Race & Ethnicity: Cape Verdian American Immigrants is a great read.

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