All Articles Tagged "african american"

Times It Sucks To Be The Only Black Person At Work

March 10th, 2016 - By Meg Butler
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Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

Sometimes, depending on your field and where you work (or the gentrification status of your neighborhood), you find yourself being one of the only black people at your place of employment. And while you try to roll with the punches, it can get uncomfortable. Especially if you end up being a guinea pig of sorts for all the White people you work with who don’t usually fraternize with Black folks.

Most of your co-workers mean well. They’ve just always wanted to touch a Black person’s hair, haven’t figured out what types of statements are racist, or just really don’t know what to do around a co-worker of another race or background. In the end, it’s mostly all good–except for these awkward moments that every person who’s ever been one of the only black people at their job is sure to identify with.

Did we miss any of your least-favorite moments? Let us know in the comment section!

Overtipping And More Struggles Of Trying To Be A Black Ambassador

February 18th, 2016 - By Meg Butler
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Image Source: Tumblr

Image Source: Tumblr

Do you ever feel like a Black ambassador? Sometimes it’s because you’re one of the few Black people in your office (or school, or book club, or church–whatever). And sometimes it’s because you know people are waiting for any possible chance to confirm their belief in certain stereotypes. At some point in many of our lives as Black men and women, there’s a particular kind of pressure where you feel like you’re supposed to be a representative for the whole entire race.

Whether it’s tipping excessively, worrying that people will label you angry for the smallest things, or politely answering the same silly question for the umpteenth time, there are a few things that we all do when we feel that it’s time to put the Black ambassador hat on.

Have you ever had one of these moments? Or do you do something different when our differences (real or imagined) are under the spotlight? Sound off in the comment section to let us know your feelings about dealing with such struggles.

From Traffic Lights To Hot Combs: Things That Wouldn’t Exist Without These Black Inventors

February 10th, 2016 - By Meg Butler
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Image Source: Tumblr

Image Source: Tumblr

Unless this is your first Black History month, you probably already know that George Washington Carver was known as “The peanut man.” But a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t the only thing we have to thank African-American inventors for. Lots of the items we use and take for granted every day were brought to us by Black inventors.

From hair styling tools and products that we can’t live without to medical procedures that keep our loved ones around, these inventions and innovations have been some of the most important. With that being said, let’s take the time to be thankful to not only for the great George Washington Carver but a whole host of talented people for the following inventions that changed the world as we know it.

But speaking of delicious snacks, can you guess what other global food favorite was brought to us by an African-American inventor? After you scroll through, leave us a note in the comment section if you managed to guess right!

Why Black America Should Appropriate African Dress More Often

September 9th, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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High Schooler Kyemah McEntyre

High Schooler Kyemah McEntyre on her prom

Africa may not be a one big ol’ homogenous country, but neither is the African-American community.

And these are the most important points that I would like to address in regard to this essay by Zipporah Gene entitled Black America, please stop appropriating African clothing and tribal marks.

If you haven’t read the essay, I urge you do so.

For the cliff notes: as the title suggests, this UK-born African (she doesn’t say from where) writer believes that Black Americans specifically are in no position to call out anyone, specifically White people, for cultural appropriation considering we do the same thing to African culture. As Gene writes, African-Americans in particular “take a cultural dress, mark or traits, with all its religious and historical connotations, dilute it, and bring it out for occasions when you want to look ‘trendy.”

As an example she points to the AfroPunk Festival, which is an annual event highlighting alternative Black music, art and culture.

More specifically she says:

“I’m not trying to start a war, but I would just like you all to realize the hypocrisy of seeing someone wearing a Fulani septum ring, rocking a djellaba, painted with Yoruba-like tribal marks, all the while claiming that this is meant to be respectful. It’s a hodgepodge, a juxtaposition, a right mess of regional, ethnic and cultural customs and it screams ignorance and cultural insensitivity.”

And it also screams African-American.

What I mean is that us African folks in America have always been a hodgepodge people. And I am not just speaking ethnically. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. once noted in this essay entitled, Exactly How ‘Black’ Is Black America?, Blacks in America are genetically anywhere between 65 to 75 percent subsaharan African, which makes us still pretty got-damn African.

But rather, I am talking culturally. Black America is not just made-up of the descendants of the American chattel system who had our history, language, religions and culture savagely ripped from us. Black America is also comprised of descendants of those free Black people who lived during and came after slavery. And we are also comprised of people who lived under slavery, White supremacy and colonial rule in the Caribbean, South America and even Africa.

What I am saying is that Black America is one big ol’ melting pot. And we are a people who somehow manage to take all of these cultural influences and mix it together to create a new Pan-Africanist cultural identity, which reflects the true diversity of our community. And that includes the over one million continental-born Africans who have made America their home in the past decade.

Yes, it is a hodgepodge. Yes, it is a juxtaposition. And yes, sometimes a regional and ethnic mess. But how we interpret and use the culture as African people is no less authentic. Moreover, we’re no more mixed up and thrown together culturally as the Haitians and other Blacks in the Caribbean, the Afro Brazilians, the Blacks in the UK and many other ethnic and tribal groups in the Diaspora, who conventionally (and tellingly) get left out whenever this topic is broached.

Now, folks might still take exception to seeing a Black American wearing a Fulani septum ring and djellaba at the same time, but when you really think about it: what’s so abhorrent about intra-racial mixing, particularly when we are so keen on adopting culture interracially?

In a essay entitled, African Identity: Nigerians And Their Foreign Names, columnist Mawuna Koutonin writes about the erasure of “primordial, authentic features” through the trend of Nigerian parents on the continent giving their children foreign, mostly European names. As Koutonin notes it is often done “with the hope that they will have better chance of success in life or after-life.” However, he also notes that the trend has also placed a higher cultural value on European names than African names.

To prove his point, he asked a handful of Nigerians to react to a list of names, which included a mix of Igbo first names with Hausa and Yoruba surnames. The responses, he discovered, ranged between shock and absurdity, including this person who said:

The brain seems to be processing it much slower. … Not laughable, but more somewhere between funny and strange. When we see a name like that occasionally, you’d guess (and rightly most times) that it’s either a child of ethnic mixed marriage, or if in America, a child of an American who was very Africa-conscious and looking back to their African roots. But you rarely see so many of such names at the same time in one place.”

Now, granted there is nothing wrong with giving kids non-native names. But why is the adoption of European names, and the value and culture that comes with those names, deemed less abhorrent of an appropriation than seeing two tribes mingled together? And why is the adoption of European names and values for a better chance of success less culturally offensive than African-Americans who are hodgepodge by force? Doesn’t that come from the same place? And more importantly, how could we be so critical of those looking to maintain culture – even if it is a hodgepodge – when so many Africans are ready to relinquish it?

And that is the main issue I have with Gene’s ideas about intra-racial appropriation. When Black folks in America call-out Christian Louboutin for its Nefertiti” inspired lipstick collection, which includes an ad with a fair skinned woman dressed as Nefertiti, or the L.A Times for declaring cornrows the “hot new trend,” we do so as a way to get proper attribution and maintain culture. We do so out of acknowledgment that those same attributes, which are now fashionable in the mainstream culture have been historically erased, penalized, vilified and denied to the Black bodies who originated them. And we do so with full understanding of how the framework of White supremacy takes our sh*t and uses it to keep us all economically, politically and socially oppressed.

Gene calls out African Americans specifically for embracing fragments of who we are while simultaneously glossing over how the influx of European fabrics and textiles keeps much of the continent from creating and maintaining a textile and fashion industry of its own at home. And while glossing over how many Africans come to the West to be “properly” educated instead of investing and valuing in their own educational systems at home. And while glossing over how African writers, artists, scholars and thinkers have to go overseas to the West be respected before they are taken seriously at home.

No ma’am, it ain’t us Africans in America who are allegedly diluting the culture; that started long ago when the first African in a Fulani septum ring traded his continental brother and sister in a djellaba to the West for a better chance in life.

*sips Rooibos tea*

In the words of Gene, “I’m not trying to start a war.” But rather I am giving a harsh reminder of how our tradition of tribalism has often blinded us to greater enemies. And in some respects maybe the relinquishing and reworking of some traditions ain’t such a bad idea?

When I see Black people in America rocking a hodgepodge of Africa, I don’t see it as a trend. For one, there have always been Blacks in America who have centered African culture, tradition, religion and philosophy within their Westernized realities (shout out to the early 90s with my faux Cross Colors Malcolm X short set with the huge Kente cloth “X” on the front). And secondly, Black Americans are not only giving proper attribution to where much of our culture have originated from – including what we eat, how we dance and our styling – but we also are at the forefront of its reclamation. How else would you explain the current natural hair movement, which has its roots in the U.S., in places like the Ivory Coast and South Africa where all the traditional Africans are?

If anything we should be finding ways to encourage more Africans in America to embrace our heritage, no matter how fragmented and hodgepodge. Perhaps then Black folks the world over might then see the value and learn to be better keepers of the culture (and resources).

“Covered Is The New Couture”: How The Islamic Community Is Changing The Modesty Fashion Game

September 2nd, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Photo by Curio Styling Consultants

Photo by Curio Styling Consultants

It was the pursuit of all things chic that brought nearly 200 Muslimahs from all across Philadelphia to the campus of St. Joseph’s University last month.

More specifically, they had come for the Riyaadah Fashion Show, an annual showcase sometimes held in conjunction with the Riyaadah Convention, a conference that is usually men-centered. The fashion show is a women-only event, and photography from guests is banned to protect the modesty of the women strutting their stuff down the catwalk. Despite not being the ones on the runway, women in the audience came dressed to the nines.

Brightly-colored overgarments were offset by six-inch platform heels and beat faces. Hijabs were color blocked and creatively pinned, knotted and draped. A Muslimah in a lime green niqab adorned in an elaborate gold headpiece chain politely excused herself as she moved past two sisters in animal print khimars before taking her seat in the front row.

This year’s theme was “Modesty in the Millennium,” and as organizers tell it, the show is a chance for up-and-coming Islamic designers to showcase the latest in modesty wear. Yet for many outsiders looking in, modeling overgarments and head covers is not typically what comes to mind when thinking about what’s fashionable.

“I think that there is a misconception that Muslim women aren’t supposed to take pride in their appearance,” said Fatima Rashid, who is a board member of the Riyaadah Convention Steering Committee. “I think that people see sisters in burkaswhich is a cultural thing and specific to only certain parts of the world, and believe it applies to everyone. Actually, that is not the truth. If you went to China, Malaysia, Africa and look around here in the U.S., you would see a lot more Muslim women expressing themselves through what they wear.”

design by MSquared Clothing, Philadelphia; Photo by

design by MSquared Clothing, Philadelphia; Photo by

Rashid has been coordinating the fashion show since its inception in 2001. It started as a way to give the women something to do during the national convention. The conference attracts thousands of men and their families from all across the country for a weekend of male-centered competitive sports and activities. But what started out as an event to help pass the time, soon morphed into one of the convention’s main attractions.

“In this particular area of the country, fashion has become a major component of the culture of Muslim women. And it has taken off as a business,” Rashid said. “There are tons of designers, boutiques and other kinds of apparel shops in Philly catering to the Muslim woman’s fashion sensibility by Muslim women.”

Philadelphia has one of the biggest populations of Muslims in the entire country, with more than 200,000 followers of Islam calling the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection home. Eighty-five percent of them are African American. Rashid is a second-generation Black Muslim whose parents converted in the ’70s. Between them, they had nine children.

“For economic reasons, mom would make all of our clothing,” Rashid said. “Sometimes I would go along with her to the fabric store – that’s how I learned how to pick out fabric. In fact, that is how a lot of Muslim women learn to sew here. It was a bonding experience.”

A bonding experience, which at one time was bred out of need. In spite of its growing presence in Philadelphia, Islam is still relatively new to North America. In fact, many Americans’ first interaction with the religion came by way of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. Some media outlets pushed narratives that indirectly (and sometimes directly) attempted to paint most followers of the faith as terrorists and nonconformist foreigners. Consequently, there are a lot of misconceptions about Islamic customs and practices, particularly around the way they dress.

But as Rashid reminds us, the garments are only meant to symbolize their modesty. And they are modest because, in the Quran, God commands them to be. As such, loose-fitting clothing, long pants, long dresses and hair coverings are all meant to not only identify themselves as followers of Allah, but to also limit earthly temptations, which might distract them from their personal relationship with God.

Although the strict clothing requirements apply to both men and women, it is the women who cover who are often unfairly stigmatized as oppressed fanatics and fundamentalists. But as Rashid notes, the act of covering is a choice. And while Muslims wear their religion on their sleeves, it doesn’t mean that the sleeve can’t be chic.

“Just because you see a woman in an all-black niqab doesn’t mean that they are not wearing some top-tier designer or in high-quality fabric, which is imported from overseas,” Rashid said. “I know people who travel to New York to get fabric because they don’t want anybody in Philly to have what they have. So while they are fully covered, it does not mean that they are not showcasing their identity.”

Z Freedom Fashion at the Riyaadah Fashion Show; photo by

Z Freedom Fashion at the Riyaadah Fashion Show; photo by

Saniyyah Bilal, co-organizer of the Riyaadah Fashion Show and founder of Curio Styling Consultants concurs. “Yes, you have to dress to the rules of Islam. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your dress and style just because you are modest.”

Bilal has been doing fashion styling in the entertainment industry for three and a half of years now. Her work has appeared in New York Fashion Week, at Ann Taylor Loft and in Vibe VixenAlthough much of her work centers primarily around styling non-Muslim women, Bilal said that she has seen an increase in demand for her services from women in the Islamic community as well.

As Islam continues its rapid growth worldwide – and becomes integrated into more secular, Christian-based societies – Muslimahs, in particular, are looking for contemporary attire. They want garb that puts them in more than just a simple overgarment and a khimar. Bilal said that they seek evening dresses and business suits for work. They want classic lines and vintage. They want patterns, bold colors and plenty of gaud. And most importantly they want clothing, which respects their faith as well as their styling choices.

Bilal said that a lot of the inspiration for the Islamic modesty industry in the U.S. comes from overseas, particularly from places like Dubai, Turkey, and Indonesia, where dress codes are part of the culture. However, she also notes the role that the African-American community has played in revolutionizing the modesty industry here in North America. Most notably, the Black Islamic communities in Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and the DMV area, which have cultivated unique and yet modest style.

“I would say that Muslims in Detroit are known for their turban style hijabs while the DMV area is more eclectic,” Bilal said. “And Philly is known for wearing more colors and dresses and skirts. We definitely have our own ways of doing things, which I think is good because our individual styles help to show the diversity of Islam.”

Bilal said that the rise of the fashionable Muslimah wasn’t without debate. And some in the community wondered if the colors and bold prints and designs were an attempt to sidestep strict modesty requirements. But as mainstream America continued its finicky infatuation with Islam, the demand to understand and embrace the culture, especially in the face of those who opt to vilify it, also increased.

Not only were Muslim designers being invited to feature their work in New York Fashion Week, but the proliferation of social media gave voice to Muslim bloggers, particularly in the realm of fashion, who also provide valuable insight into the culture. Bilal said that by 2011, many detractors grew to appreciate how the Muslim fashionistas were helping to paint the religion in a positive light.

“There is a word in Islam called Dawah, which basically means showcasing Islam in a positive way by Muslim having the best behavior as possible,” she said. “So I believe that being both modest and fashionable, according to Islam, shows the outside world, particularly non-Muslims, that who we are is not what you necessarily see or hear about in the media.”

Bilal also added that “I think it helped too that many non-Muslim women want to dress modestly. Modesty fashion is a sense of understanding that you don’t have to be revealing in how you dress to be considered fashionable. And I think that is what Muslim women in fashion help bring to the table.”

It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, which has caught the attention of more mainstream and secular designers. In particular, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, and Oscar de la Renta, who have all either introduced or explored Ramadan-inspired modesty capsule collections, which appeal to women both of and outside of the faith.

With some mainstream design houses putting more emphasis on appealing to this new demographic of fashionistas, the need for authentic representation of the culture is also being considered. “I think it is important for these women to see themselves in the industry,” said Nailah Lymus, founder of UnderWraps, which is the world’s first Muslim and modesty modeling agency.

In addition to seeing themselves in the industry, Lymus said she started the New York-based agency three years ago as a way to help Muslim and non-muslim yet modest women who wanted to model, but did not want to defile their religious and personal beliefs. “In my travels and meeting different Muslims, they had what it took to be a model including height and weight, but didn’t entertain the idea because they felt that in order to be a model, they had to conform to the sexy ideas of modeling including taking off their hajibs,” Lymus said. “But fashion does allow for different avenues of expression. And I am here to show them that they don’t have to sacrifice themselves and their comfort levels just for the sake of making money.”

With the tagline, “covered is the new couture,” Lymus also aims to promote modesty in an industry, which she says has gotten away from its roots. She points to fashion eras of the past, which catered to women and their current needs as mothers and career women as opposed to unrealistic ideas of how women should be.

Thus far, UnderWraps models have appeared in and done both editorial and runway modeling, including editorial campaigns, New York Fashion Week and photo shoots. Some of the models have even done secular, but positive, music videos. Lymus understands her agency has its niche appeal. And designers and fashion magazines who hire her models must go the extra mile to ensure that they are providing safe spaces for them to work. “Our models just can’t get dressed in unisex spaces like everybody else,” she notes.

modesty fashion

Model Mu’minah. Photo: UnderWraps Facebook Page

But for those who are willing to think outside of the box, using Muslim models not only brings positive attention to a show or event but attracts an entire new clientele as well.

“I mean, just look at high-end fashion. Many times the women are covered” Lymus said. “They are making gowns and making layered pieces, cover-ups, and dusters. To me, there will always be a niche for Muslim models because there are already designers designing clothing that Muslim women can wear and do purchase.”

As mainstream design houses continue to draw inspiration  as well as customers from Islamic communities, Bilal said that both the mainstream modesty fashion industry as well as the Islamic-American population are also taking some cues from the Black Islamic community. In particular, incorporating bold prints and vibrant colors as well as African-inspired tribal prints, which have long been used to symbolize heritage among the African diaspora.

“As you look into the past, especially when pertaining to the Middle East, there has been a bit of resistance to dressing in that way. But in the last couple of years, you can see more women of different nationalities expressing themselves in colors and styles associated with the African-American community,” Bilal said. “So in that respect, I do think African-American culture and styling is visually appealing enough where lots of people want to emulate it.”

Mercedes Prater of Couture Creations by Kulthulm agrees.

“Even in mainstream America, everything is pulling from the African-American culture,” Prater said. “Now we are seeing more women with full hips and bottoms, which means that there are more sizes for us, and everything isn’t so tight and ill-fitting as it was before. But it is still not perfect.”

Photo provided by Couture Creations by Kulthulm

Photo provided by Couture Creations by Kulthulm

A recent convert to Islam, Prater founded her design company two years ago after experiencing difficulty finding contemporary clothing to meet her modest needs. She said that while more luxe clothing lines are expanding their fashion palettes, more commercial, affordable brands have been slow to follow the trend.

“Before I started my company, there really wasn’t enough cute clothes to wear. And there was nowhere to go,” Prater said. “If I went to the mall I would have to buy something too big. And the things people were sewing were boring colors and didn’t have any shape. I am a lively person, so I started making my own things. Then people started asking if I could make them things. That’s when I realized I had something here.”

A self-taught seamstress, Prater describes her clothing line as a modern-day take on the ’50s fashion era, which is known for being high on glamour and short on skin. Although a lot of her business comes from her sisters in the Philadelphia Islamic community, Prater also has an Instagram page, which has helped her share her designs with Muslimahs all across the country. She says, “The thing is, social media allows us to get a glimpse of other people’s style. And, for me, social media has tripled my business in a year.”

As more women began to embrace comfort in their style, Prater said that she is also seeing a higher demand for her designs among non-Muslim sisters. “I honestly think that this comes as more Americans become interested in traveling to more modest countries. They are seeing that there is a place for modesty in the world, which doesn’t require them to dress in layers upon layers of fabric.”

One of the most requested items is her signature swing dress, which can be worn in both corporate America as well as for a night out on the town. Prater said that she often gets requests from Islamic sisters who may have received a promotion at work or a new job and don’t necessarily want to wear an overgarment to mark their special occasion. “Also, my clients definitely love color and prints,” Prater said. “You can get black anywhere.”

Prater said that what most people get wrong about modesty fashion is thinking that the only way to be covered is to hide behind big clothing and dull, boring colors. What fashion-forward Muslimahs are bringing to the table is an idea that modest women can be trendy. “I like to make clothing that women feel comfortable in, ” Prater said. “I want them to feel good about themselves when they wear something of mine.”

Enter Our “Be The Boss” Contest For A Chance To Win A Free Makeover From African Pride

August 24th, 2015 - By Raven Carter
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Are you a woman who’s about her business or know someone who is? We want to hear from you!

MadameNoire is providing two women a chance to win a makeover by African Pride for sharing their story of their journey to becoming a boss with us. To get your name in the running, upload a video of yourself or a family or friend you want to nominate to Facebook or Instagram explaining how this person is a boss why they should be picked for the makeover and be sure to use #BeTheBossMN hashtag. Then send an email with the following:

– subject headline: #BeTheBossMN Contest Entry
– Link to your video on FB/Instagram
– headshot of the person nominated
– Full name
– Age
– Location
– A short paragraph explaining why the nominee should win the makeover

When uploading your videos to Instagram and Facebook, please make sure the privacy settings are public or we will not be able to see your entry.

Check out the video above for more details and good luck!

‘Black’ Vs. ‘African-American’: Which Term Has The Financial Advantage?

January 12th, 2015 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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Should we be called “Black” or “African-American”? It’s quite a contentious subject, isn’t it? “African-American” is the preferred nomenclature in the US, but some critics say this term discounts non-American people of African descent — y’know, like Black Africans or West Indians. But the truth is that one of these — Black or African-American — yield better financial consequences than the other.

Can you guess which one?

According to The Atlantic, a new study found that “Black” people are seen as more incompetent and “cold.” The report, authored by Emory University’s Erika Hall, found that there is a perceived distinction in socioeconomic status between the two terms.

Research participants were given a brief description of a Chicago man with the surname “Williams.” In one group, Williams was described as “Black”; in another, he was “African-American.” With this information, subjects were asked to estimate his income, educational background, and professional standing.

When Williams was labeled “African-American,” participants assumed he made $37,000 a year and had a two-year college degree. Almost 75 percent believed Williams worked at a managerial level. But when Williams was “Black,” he only pocketed $29,000 annually and had “some” college experience. Only 38.5 percent perceived “Black” Williams as a manager.

The study points out that the perceived differences between “Black” and “African-American” can effect job applicants of color who add seemingly harmless affiliations to their resume, such as “Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers” or “The National Black Employees Association.” In this case, you’d want your employer to perceive you as the hypothetical “African-American Williams” — not “Black Williams.”

Though Hall made a conscious decision to not discuss the controversial “Black vs. African-American” debate in the research paper, she told On the Media, a podcast, that she prefers “Americans of African Descent.”

“…It’s kind of a mouthful—but I’m hopeful that a new phrase, purged of the old weight, will arrive someday,” Hall said. “I think a lot of the stigma is embodied in the time in which the term was created.”

Which term do you prefer?

This study is poised to be published in the  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology next month.

Why That Indian You Think You Have In Your Family Is Most Likely A Lie

April 22nd, 2014 - By Raven Carter
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Indian In Your Family

Source: Shutterstock

From TheRoot

Zora Neale Hurston once wrote with characteristic irony that she thought she was “the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.” Like most African Americans I’ve interviewed, I was raised believing that one of my great-great grandmothers was all or part Native American, with “high cheekbones and straight black hair.”

In my family, this was gospel. No one even thought about the possibility that it might not be true, since—sure enough—there were plenty of people on my family tree, as family photos attested about those who had passed, who did in fact have those proverbial and much-valued cheekbones and some variation of that long and silky straight black hair. What struck me about our mysterious Native American ancestry, even as a child, was how very important it was to my mother’s 11 siblings, and how just as important it was to my dozens of cousins.

Being “part Indian” was a much discussed and much bragged about aspect of the Coleman family’s collective identity, even if no one was certain when or how these American Indians had entered our family tree, where they had mated with our black ancestors or from what tribe they hailed. I once asked my Uncle David, our meticulous family historian, what tribe we should tell people we were part of. “Cherokee,” he replied, as if self-evident. When I pointed out that the Cherokee lived in what is now Georgia, the Carolinas and East Tennessee, my uncle responded, unflappably, “That’s right—it was the Iroquois.”

I admire a person who can improvise on his feet. But the problem with that answer is that we happen to be able to trace the various branches of the Coleman family to the middle of the 18th century, and since those ancestors all lived in a 30-mile radius of my hometown of Piedmont, W.Va., the likelihood of one of them being an Iroquois was about as likely as her being a Cherokee (in other words, zip!). Well, we might not know what tribe we came from, but we had ancestors who possessed those cheekbones and that hair, and that—and the strength of family lore—was quite enough.

I wish you could have seen my inbox the morning after the episode of African American Lives aired in 2008, in which we revealed my genetic admixture. To my own surprise, I have to confess, the results showed that I had a surprisingly high amount of European ancestry (50.5 percent) but only 0.8 percent Native American ancestry. (I am 48.2 percent sub-Saharan African.) No one seemed to mind all that white ancestry, but the low level of Native American ancestry caused something of a family crisis. I thought my computer was going to explode. I didn’t realize I had so many cousins who were so deeply committed to being “part Indian.” And the venom those emails contained! These were some very angry cousins.

“Skippy, how could you embarrass our family like that, in front of the nation?” ran one line of attack, while another questioned the accuracy of the tests. “That test is one big fat lie.” After all, Big Mom herself had told us all about her Indian ancestry, and how could “science” be more authoritative than Big Mom, your own grandmother. Boy. Then followed the mountain of photographs of our ancestors that my cousins sent, demonstrating, prima facie, that all you had to do was to look at those faces and that hair to know that that test wasn’t worth a bucket of spit, the same spit geneticists used to analyze your DNA in the first place. You need to correct these aspersions you have cast on our family, Skippy. Right now.

I would soon learn that my cousins’ reactions were typical of the reactions I get all across the country when I lecture about our people’s genetic composition. When I ask black people to raise their hands if they believe they have significant amounts of Native American ancestry, almost everyone raises their hands. Here are the facts, according to geneticists Joanna Mountain and Kasia Bryc at The average African American is 73 percent sub-Saharan, 24 percent European and only 0.7 percent Native American. So, most of us have quite a lot of European ancestry and very, very little Native American ancestry. And if this Native American DNA came from exactly one ancestor, it surfaced in our family trees quite a long time ago—on average, perhaps as many as 10 generations, or 300 years, ago, which means about 1714. (This date is very important in terms of the numbers of Africans who had even arrived in the United States by then, and I will return to this point when I try to explain why most of us don’t have much Native American ancestry.)

Bottom line? Those high cheekbones and that straight black hair derive from our high proportion of white ancestors and not, for most of us at least, from our mythical Cherokee great-great grandmother. Sorry, folks, but DNA don’t lie.


Sooo TMZ Is Asking Readers To Vote On What To Call Black People

December 17th, 2013 - By Raven Carter
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From TMZ

Suge Knight is offended when people call him African American, because he’s NOT African.  On the other hand, he doesn’t have a problem with the word, “Ni**a.”

Suge says it’s offensive to label all Black people African American.  And he goes further … he thinks it’s ridiculous that only rappers can use the word, “Ni**a.”  He thinks if it can be used by some, it should be used by all.

Do you agree with Suge Knight? Read on to see the poll on the subject on 

Black Wedding Traditions You May Not Have Heard Of

July 23rd, 2013 - By Meg Butler
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Looking for a way to add a little more soul into your wedding?

Black weddings have always had a unique flair. From jumping the broom to pouring libations, there are plenty of wedding ideas to take from. We’re willing to bet that not even African-American history majors know them all. So check out our list for a refresher course on the most popular black wedding traditions.