For too long, African Americans have deemed themselves the prima donnas of the African Diaspora. Wrongly, we used historical perspective as the measure for the black world view. Our view today should be global and embrace the full Diaspora which includes experiences equally as valuable.
Brazil has the largest population of blacks in the Americas, approximately 97 million and perhaps more if all people of color were truly counted. Brazil imported approximately 4.8 million slaves during the height of Portuguese slavery and colonial rule and was last to end slavery in the New World in 1888.
People forget that when slavery ended in Brazil and other Latin American countries, slave populations outstripped indigenous peoples and European immigrants.
We exist in Latin America despite governmental programs to whiten us out of existence. In Brazil it was called branqueamento or whitening. This involved importation of Europeans to mix with the descendants of former slaves to “lighten” the population. Many nations in South America and the Caribbean used this practice.
Blacks and Latinos have numerous historical connections. The moors of North Africa occupied Spain from about 700-1400 A.D., about the time of the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Additionally, the slave trade which began with Henry the Navigator flourished from the 1440s, taking Africans into Portugal and Spain as servants. Many conquistadors of the New World brought with them free men of African ancestry.
Finally, the Transatlantic Slave Trade sealed Afro-Hispanic connections as slaves intermingled voluntarily and involuntarily with their captors, creating variations in our color palate. Thus, our connections are longstanding.
These connections are evident in Puerto Rico, Cuba the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and even in places like Argentina, where whitening and purging diminished the black presence significantly.
Thus, there is no Diaspora experience for any of us without all of us. Henry Louis Gates proved in his book Black in Latin America that color matters wherever we find ourselves. Some countries have as many as 100 names for shades of color.
My point is that the African Diaspora experience, as was evidenced on Oscar night, is diverse and includes influences of blacks in Europe, Africa and all the Americas and the Caribbean.
There are strands of the Diaspora in the Middle East, including Arab nations, and in places as unlikely as Mexico and China. So, blacks in America must begin to embrace our global heritage and we must also learn that our experiences are not superior but mere pieces of a wider tapestry of “colors.”
All are worth celebrating, researching and understanding. We are one great people cast to the winds by emigration and immigration, historical slavery, war, racial mixing and chance.
What does this mean in our context?
It means you cannot judge a book by its cover. We are a culturally rich people, who, though enslaved, did not come from Africa empty-headed or bereft of traditions but brought with us languages, music, cultures, religions, agrarian skills and a sense of community and family. Acculturation did not make us intellectually destitute.
When we could not perpetuate our own ways, we invented new ones, even incorporating Catholicism with Yoruban deities into Santeria, Voodoo and Candomble. We are a beautiful and complex people with many faces.
*Dr. Jeffrey Dean Swain (JD/PhD) is the Director of the Centers for Academic Support Services at Florida Memorial University and teaches criminal, constitutional and public school law. He is also author of six books about the diaspora experience, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College, and a minister and social commentator.