Who is Black?
A Puerto Rican woman claims her place in the African Diaspora
by Rosa Clemente
Yesterday, an interesting thing happened to me. I was told I am not
The kicker for me was when my friend stated that the island of Puerto
Rico was not a part of the African Diaspora. I wanted to go back to the
old skool playground days and yell: “You said what about my momma?!” But
after speaking to several friends, I found out that many Black Americans
and Latinos agree with him. The miseducation of the Negro is still in
I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am Black, that my
peoples are from the Motherland, that Puerto Rico, along with Cuba,
Panama and the Dominican Republic, are part of the African Diaspora. Do
we forget that the slave ships dropped off our people all over the
world, hence the word Diaspora?
The Atlantic slave trade brought Africans to Puerto Rico in the early
1500s. Some of the first slave rebellions took place on the island of
Puerto Rico. Until 1846, Africanos on the island had to carry a libreta
to move around the island, like the passbook system in apartheid South
Africa. In Puerto Rico, you will find large communities of descendants
of the Yoruba, Bambara, Wolof and Mandingo people. Puerto Rican culture
is inherently African culture.
There are hundreds of books that will inform you, but I do not need
to read book after book to legitimize this thesis. All I need to do is
go to Puerto Rico and look all around me. Damn, all I really have to do
is look in the mirror every day.
I am often asked what I am—usually by Blacks who are lighter than me
and by Latinos/as who are darker than me. To answer the $64,000
question, I am a Black Boricua, Black Rican, PuertoriqueÒa! Almost
always I am questioned about why I choose to call myself Black over
Latina, Spanish, Hispanic. Let me break it down.
I am not Spanish. Spanish is just another language I speak. I am not
a Hispanic. My ancestors are not descendants of Spain, but descendants
of Africa. I define my existence by race and land. (Borinken is the
indigenous name of the island of Puerto Rico.)
Being Latino is not a cultural identity but rather a political one.
Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but rather a cultural and
national one. Being Black is my racial identity. Why do I have to
consistently explain this to those who are so-called conscious? Is it
because they have a problem with their identity? Why is it so bad to
assert who I am, for me to big-up my Africanness?
My Blackness is one of the greatest powers I have. We live in a
society that devalues Blackness all the time. I will not be devalued as
a human being, as a child of the Supreme Creator.
Although many of us in activist circles are enlightened, many of us
have baggage that we must deal with. So many times I am asked why many
Boricuas refuse to affirm their Blackness. I attribute this denial to
the ever-rampant anti-Black sentiment in America and throughout the
world, but I will not use this as an excuse. Often Puerto Ricans who
assert our Blackness are not only outcast by Latinos who identify more
with their Spanish Conqueror than their African ancestors, but we are
also shunned by Black Americans who do not see us as Black.
Nelly Fuller, a great Black sociologist, stated: “Until one
understands the system of White supremacy, anything and everything else
will confuse you.” Divide and conquer still applies.
Listen people: Being Black is not just skin color, nor is it
synonymous with Black Americans. To assert who I am is the most
liberating and revolutionary thing I can ever do. Being a Black Puerto
Rican encompasses me racially, ethically and most importantly, gives me
a homeland to refer to.
So I have come to this conclusion: I am whatever I say I am! (Thank
(Rosa Clemente is the youth organizer for the F.R.E.E. Youth
Empowerment Program of Central Brooklyn Partnership. She is also an
organizer with Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the co-host of WBAI’s
“Where We Live” public affairs program.)