Know Your History. Tell the Truth.

Since the airing of “Light Girls” on the OWN network, questions and comments about race, ethnicity and identity have ranged from vulgar to just plain offensive especially as it pertains to the segment focusing on Amber Rose and her story about family members not attending her wedding because she was marrying an African-American. The documentary is the second from Bill Duke focusing on the issue of colorism in the Black community.

Amber Rose, of Cape Verdean and Italian descent spoke about struggling with colorism within her family her whole life; ” With my family, they feel they are more superior than African American because we’re Creole and we have culture and it’s something I’ve battled with most of my life”.  This single statement sparked controversy among African Americans and Cape Verdeans, although for different reasons. People immediately took to social media to put their two cents in about “those Cape Verdeans playing white among among themselves” (Actual Facebook comment) .

Here’s an example of comments made;

“Mutt” was thrown around quite a bit in these posts. And, apparently, many people agreed; notice the 16 likes as of the night this episode aired. What was it exactly that sparked this kind of rage toward Cape Verdeans? Was it that she used the words “superior” or “culture”? Was it because she was “airing our dirty laundry”? Was it because she participated in a dialog about an experience that had a profound affect on her life? After all, this was a documentary focusing on the experience of light skinned black women. Was what she said more hateful than the story told by a dozen other women on the same program? What I heard was a story very similar to my own and my reaction was quick and immediate in response to the ignorant comments I read.

In response to this gem

I posted;

And then there’s this;

To which I responded;



I wasn’t defending the notion that some Cape Verdeans feel a sense of superiority over other blacks. I found myself defending my “Capeverdean-ness” to strangers on Facebook.  I was armed with knowledge, prepared for a fight, but quickly found that the other side just retreated with their tails between their legs. All I did was speak the truth.

We need to have honest conversations about the realities of racism and colorism within the Black community, in general, and within the Cape Verdean community, specifically. And it begins with telling the truth about our history!

I’ve always had a descent amount of awareness in who I was and my identity. Since beginning my genealogical research, my awareness has become an unwavering confidence.

I’ve studied thousands of vital and immigration records. And staring back at me was the story of resilience and survival. I am a descendant of people who lived under the system of slavery, colonialism and European imperialism for over 500 years. I have also had to reconcile facts that include ancestors who owned slaves and who may have been active participants in the Atlantic Slave Trade. In these ways, Cape Verdean history is no different than African American history. The inception of the “creole” population began with the enslavement and exploitation of African women by their European masters. This is an undeniable fact.

The product of this is a genetically diverse population who created a culture that preserved traditions brought over from the African mainland, as well as, those of the very Europeans who were our oppressors. There were attempts to “water it down” by mixing more European blood. But we held steadfast to our “Caboverdeanidade”. They banned us from using our Criolu language but we ardently held on to our language and it is spoken in Cape Verdean homes all over the world. In defiance of ordinances against writing our language, our ancestors wrote and composed in Criolu. Our music was banned but the drumbeat of the Batuku and Tabanka continue to run through our veins. We were left to die during the most brutal droughts and famines but still we survived.

How could I not be proud to call myself a Cape Verdean? I AM A CREOLA!!!

Unfortunately, there are too many among us who don’t know about this history because it has been whitewashed by others who felt it was their duty to tell us who and what we are. Our greatness has been replaced by self-doubt and insecurities that has allowed untruths to be put on us and caused divisions to the extant that we no longer remember who we are. How dare we allow the memory and experience of our ancestors die in vain?

We were told by others that because we had their blood we were different. We were used as middle-men in the Atlantic slave trade. The key word is used. We received no gains. We were made to believe that we had a seat at the table when in reality we were used to as door mats. We were made to believe that our worth was based on our hue. Again, we received no gains. We were just sold at a higher cost. We were made to believe that Africa had no greatness, yet it was Africa that ran through our veins.

When all else failed, the divide and conquer strategy was used in the attempt to make us forget our greatness. Rather than being destroyed by the guns of our enemies we allowed divisiveness within our own families and communities. They couldn’t divide us by banning basic elements of our identity like music and language. Instead color has been used to redirect our hostility toward each other rather than direct it toward the actual reasons for inequities within our society.

Throughout our 500 year history, those of our ancestors who realized their greatness fought back. Rebelados were transported to different islands because they realized our strength in part was in our numbers. Where Caboverdeanos realized that our identity could be preserved in our stories and our language we began to write and compose in Crioulo. When we were left to die during numerous droughts and famines, our courageous ancestors risked their own lives to travel to foreign lands to find a way to take care of their families. When one man dared to speak out against the evils of imperialism and for the liberation of our people, he was killed. But his brilliance and strength live on today and Cabo Verde is an independent nation. Staring back at me in the volumes of records were these truths!

Slavery and colonialism is recorded in history through the eyes of those who were in power. It’s seldom told in the voice of those who lived under its shackles. In Cape Verde, vital records only go back to the early 1800’s. What wasn’t lost from natural disasters have been intentionally destroyed, I believe, with the intention of keeping us mentally oppressed and lost to our identity. Just another attempt to make us forget our “caboverdeanidade”. Amilcar Cabral not only fought a war of guns, but more importantly, of the mind. He understood that we needed to preserve our records not just to tell the story of the struggle for independence to later generations but, in essence, to remember the core of what it meant to be a Caboverdeano.

So why is colorism still dividing us. Do we still not remember our greatness?

As a researcher of Cape Verdean genealogy, I realize that I have a responsibility to try to help preserve the memory of these people and their experiences. Regardless of status, color or origin, our caboverdeanidade is rooted in the history of all the people in Cape Verde. As I said in my response to the Facebook posting, I never imagined that I would be perceived as denying our African-ness by trying to “discover and, more importantly, tell the truth about our history”. When I write here about our ancestors experiences, I did not refer to skin color because, in truth, our ancestors were of all shades and phenotypes. Some were considered white, others black, and still others where identified by numerous classifications.

We are descendants of Fulani, Bantu, Yorubas, Mandinkans and others who were enslaved and forced to endure unspeakable brutalities. We are also descendants of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews who were persecuted, imprisoned, and exiled because of their religious beliefs. Ironically, even the descendants of the slave masters who remained in Cape Verde quickly assumed the Cape Verdean identity. It’s safe to assume that the truths in the words of this paragraph are the root of the colorism that continues to affect our culture.

The descendants of these people went on to marry one another, have children and build homes with each other. But the legacy of colorism left by the colonialism hasn’t been easy to extinguish. When we realize that it was nothing more than a tool used to make us forget our greatness it becomes possible to allow us to measure ourselves in terms other than color. When we begin to understand the truth of our history and that our skin colors have been used against us we might actually begin to remember our greatness and pass THIS on to our children.

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that people died for our right to call Cabo Verde an African country. We are Africans with a rich and multicultural heritage that I believe is embraced by our “caboverdeanidade”. It’s important that we make distinctions between race, culture and ethnicity.

Race is a social construct used to divide. Culture is what holds us together. Ethnicity is in the DNA that we can never deny.

In the end, Amber’s “airing out” of our dirty laundry should be used as an opportunity to continue the conversation about race, culture and ethnicity in Cape Verdean communities around the world. Let’s not be afraid to know our history and to tell the truth.



Author: The Creola Genealogist

My name is Anna Lima. I am the daughter of immigrants, born and raised in Massachusetts. I am the mother of two and a Speech Pathologist. My love of family history began as a child listening to my elders speak of “the old country”. Through their stories grew a love for the culture and traditions of my ancestors and I wanted to know more about who they were. My great-grandmother, our family Griot, was my greatest inspiration as she passed down stories and traditions that have helped me become the person I am today. I believe that remembering our ancestors strengthens who we are. I hope to continue my great-grandmother’s legacy, to continue to pass down the stories of not only my own family history but also the stories of the ancestors of anyone who wishes to remember. My blog is dedicated to the ancestors, those remembered and those yet to be found.

19 thoughts on “Know Your History. Tell the Truth.”

  1. Great post Anna, very informative and eye opening. I agree that the colorism that was established by the colonizers has been hard to extinguish. In my opinion, some of the old timers have a different way of thinking…they haven’t recognized the greatness of Africa or of their ancestors who fought for independence. And I get why, I get how this way of thinking has become ingrained in some. I wish more people would educate themselves. I’ve seen prejudice in both the CV community and in the African American community…no community is exempt. For an outsider looking in…or a person not familiar with the history of slavery/colonialism, I can see why one might think some CVs don’t embrace their african-ness. I’m not saying it’s right, but I can see how it happens. That’s why I think open dialogue like this is so important.

    I saw a lot of racism within my CV family…and that is what prompted me to do research, read books, ask questions and study. Unfortunately some folks refuse to learn.

    Again great job…I’ll be sharing this.

  2. Thank you so much for articulating your points so well. After living a little over 10 months in Cabo Verde less than a year ago, I realized the ignorance is rampant on the mother land. I feel it is my duty as a truth seeker to speak that truth and it brings me immense joy to know there are others who have actually dedicated their lives to this truth! So thank you again. I would like to request a breakdown of the assertion of WEB Dubois, Dr Ivan Van Sertima, and others of the original Afrikans that lived on the Cape Verde islands before the arrival of the Portugese?? This is were my journey has taken me 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for articulating your points so well. After living a little over 10 months in Cabo Verde less than a year ago, I realized the ignorance is rampant on the mother land and across the diaspora. I feel it is my duty as a truth seeker to speak that truth and it brings me immense joy to know there are others who have actually dedicated their lives to this truth! So thank you again. I would like to request a breakdown of the assertion of WEB Dubois, Dr Ivan Van Sertima, and others of the original Afrikans that lived on the Cape Verde islands before the arrival of the Portugese?? This is where my journey has taken me 🙂

    1. I wrote a post a while back on the “Hidden History of Cape Verde” speaking exactly about the question of Africans being in Santiago prior to the Portuguese. I believe there Wolof/Jolofa people living in CV. It has been written in early texts. But again, the whitewashing of our history has made this fact hidden from our common knowledge. Let me know what you think. And thank you!!!

  4. I am also very proud of my Cape Verdean heritage. But I am also aware that African-Americans paved the way for people of color in this nation and take issue with people who clam their Black roots when it’s convenient e.g. for scholarships or opportunities that have been earmarked for AFRICAN AMERICANS. And many groups are guilty of that –Cape Verdeans, Caribbean Americans etc.

    1. Hi Janae- it’s very true. Cape Verdeans have also been a part of that movement. The first black senator for the state of Maryland was a Cape Verdean by the name of Mateus de Sousa. In the Massachusetts State House is a portrait of a Black American Patriot from the Revolutionary War named Barzelei Lew whose mother was a freed enslaved woman from Cape Verde named Margaret Lew. The first black federal judges in the US is the Honorable George Leighton, born in Brava, and a Howard and Harvard Law alum. Our history here in the US has been just as whitewashed as it is in Cape Verde. Cape Verdeans have been a part of the Black American experience since before America was America and did have an impact in building these opportunities you speak of. Again, I think that social constructs were put into place to create divisions and make people forget that these things ever happened. It is up to us to remind ourselves and everyone else around us that we have shared the same experience.

    2. I am African-American and I don’t have any problem with other African-descended people claiming their Black roots for scholarships! We all have/share African heritage
      and ancestry, and we all suffered–and still suffer!–in the New World; so frankly, all of
      us are owed reparations for ALL we suffered at the hands of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and subsequent periods of economic and political disenfranchisement. It is helpful to remember that millions of us African-Americans share ancestry with Afro-Indigenous, Afro-Portuguese, Afro-French, Afro-Dutch, Afro-Saxon and Afro-Spanish peoples, as well as Cabo Verdian ethnic groups–but we are not always aware of it because family histories have been “lost, stolen or strayed”. We don’t learn of our ethnographic heritage until we undergo genetic testing and/or begin genealogical research. For example, my own family’s ethnography project began with myself, my mother and brother. Tests revealed the heavy Portuguese heritage on the Y-DNA (patroclan) and the Tikar lines on the mitochondrial (matroclan) side. However, “Tikar” turns out to be a collective term for a number of groups in the eastern grasslands of Cameroon (including the Ewondo and
      Bamileke) who are descendants of Egyptian and Sudanese Hebrews/Israelites/Jews
      that had fled westward across the continent, escaping the Arab Muslim invasions after
      the 700’s AD. Our autosomal DNA revealed the amalgam of African, West Asiatic
      and Middle Eastern DNA in the family lines of both our parents, including Berber, Arab
      Israeli, Lebanese, Sardinian, Yemenite, Kuwaiti genes–including my mother’s Mozambican, Angolan and Zimbabwe lines and my father’s Bubi, Igbo and Fang lines.
      Now multiply our story by the millions of us here, and yes, I probably share ancestry
      with Cabo Verdians, just as they share genes/chromosomes with me. I suspect that
      our family’s Portuguese lines were also Jewish Sephardic, based upon the sizeable
      North African ancestry that appeared in my own profile. My mother’s own “diaspora matches” included Cabo Verde. It would not surprise me if millions more of us
      African-Americans are of Cabo Verdian descent and that I have Cabo Verdian cousins whom I do not know.

  5. I really want to thank you Anna Lima for the work you are doing.I am Manu Salah Omowali Matteos ( Mateus) .Just let me say one of the big mistakes that is made is that history as it is taught is based on the deception of the color code of racism. Black and White which still evades all the real facts because according to definition by Webster,Black being being inferior and white being superior. in Africa the main land people don’t identify by color but by their clan or tribe.
    If in fact you would google the name Salah Mateus the exchange between me and Professor Viriato Barros,or if you would read some of the points that I have made going back many years on FORCV.COM. It will explain what took place. Not only the color code system just involved with CV people but also in the West Indies and in some Africab countries.. We are African people not just because the complexion of our skin just as we can see that to be in North Africa.. France,Spain and Portugal under the Romana Catholic Church several hundread year ago in order to have a better lif you would be classified as white. Evev very dark skin (Black) people if you had wealth you were said to be white or of the national origin of the enslaver (Colonizers). For the information of people the most dominant color in Africa is Brown or Dark Brown and for sure we have people that are so Blue Balck. But it is not the color which identifies them it is their nation or tribe. We need to stop playing the color code of racism. In the West Indies some folk would say I’m not a Negrold say I am French. Let us understand why? he so called American Negro was brought here as a slave from many different tribes but over a period of centuries. Lost the language the tribe and there culture. light was right,white was might.There was a time that to tell an African American (So called Negro) that he was African he would deny it. We can thank the likes of Marcus Garvey and many others to proclaim Africa. We can thank Amilcar Carbral for returning Cabo Verde to it’s origin. So let us not fight with each other what racism has produced on both side of the Atlantic. May I ask your readers to study Return To The Source -Selaected speechess of amilcar Cabral and his other workes. Another good book is CLAIM NO EASY VICTORIES THE LEGACY OF AMILCAR CABRAL WHICH i POSTED ON MY FACE BOOK PAGE. THE NATIONALITY OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IS NOT BLACK OR ANY OTHER COLOR. THE NATIONALITY OF EUROPEANS IS NOT WHITE. WE ARE NOT AGAINST PEOPLE BECAUSE IF THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN WE ARE AGAINST IMPERIALISM,COLONIALISM AND RACISM.. LET US WAKE UP AND SMALL THE COFFEE. AFRICA MUST UNITE THANK YOU
    Manu Selah Salah.

  6. What us so called Cape Verdeans fail to realize is that,we ain’t Cape Verdeans or Africans!!! Because Cabo Verde means green place and we as nation of people are not a green a place!!! And Africa was never called Africa it was called the land of Ham according to the Bible! And founder of Africa was Scipio Africanus who was a Roman General who is a white man! So how can anyone from that part land call themselves after a white man when the people from that land are people of color! And how can we also call are self Creole when Creole is language! {Deuteronomy 28:37King James Version (KJV) 37 And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.} Like God says to his chosen people that we will be called a byword and a proverb,meaning we will be called Cape Verdeans,Porto Ricans Dominicans,African Americans,Native Americans,nigers and spics and greenhorns,Just incase some you all dont understand! See what alot of you people don’t understand is that we are Hebrew Israelites the Bible speaks about, who are your so called African Americans Hispanics Native Americans and the descendents of the Sub Sharia slave trade and The trans Atlantic slave trade! Our history is in the Bible in the book of Deuteronomy! So you all need to stop being ignorant to the facts and truth about who we really are,because i don’t know about you but i rather be called what God called me from the start of time than the name the slave master gave me and only the children of God can understand this! And on that note Slalom in the most high Christ Bless You all

  7. I haven’t seen the documentary on OWN but I’m glad this was brought up. I too have this “colorism” issue in my family. Move never really realized it until I started to figure out where I am from more in depth. I’ve come to a realization that “my side” was not wanted when trying to contact a family member of my great-uncle (whom are of light complexion). Years have passed and she has not even acknowledged one email from me. I later found out from my aunt that they wouldn’t respond because of how I look. My aunt said she had experienced this first hand when she went to visit along with her brother (my aunt is very fair skinned while he brother is of dark skin) – they blatantly told her he wasn’t welcomed but she was. From that point on, my aunt has never seen them again. If they couldn’t accept her brother, then they couldn’t accept her.

    I feel people are afraid to realize that this goes on or just completely ignore it because they don’t want to deal with it. It’s really sad but, how can we fix it?

    1. All African-descended peoples in the Diaspora–including African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans,
      Afro-Latinos and Cabo Verdeanos– face the same “colorism” nonsense, a legacy left over from the colonial slave trade practices which started in the 1500’s with the rise of the European
      conquest of the New World. All the skin color distinction nonsense was rooted in the desire of sellers to market their merchandise–African slaves. The elaborate color gradation systems utilized by the Portuguese and Spanish traffickers were employed as an easy way to “describe their wares”–the unfortunate humans who were kidnapped, bought and sold to “buyers.”
      After the slaves arrived at the various haciendas, plantations and domestic houses of the “buyers”, the color gradation system marked who was eligible for field labor and who was marked for sexual duties and house labor. However, African women of all colors and from all countries were perpetually targets of sexual exploitation, regardless of how “African” they looked.
      The unfortunate thing is that we Afro-descendants still discriminate among ourselves and
      thus perpetuate slavery among our own peoples. This mess is “fixed” whenever ANY of us REFUSES to accept colorism for ANY reason, and we EDUCATE our relatives and friends
      by informing them of our NON-ACCEPTANCE of their color judgements, pronouncements or other horrors perpetuated against us. EVERY TIME we REFUSE TO ACCEPT “colorist” statements,
      we BREAK THE COLONIAL HOLD ON THE MIND and claim our own God-given ethnic beauty.

  8. Anna,what you are doing is throwing light onto the beauty,intelligence,culture,positive history of a unique people. The devil will come,in the guise of” normal” conversation. Do not let these ” people” deter you,discourage you,take away the awesome beauty and ” light” you are sharing. Stay true to yourself…….the world…….be damned.

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