To be presented at the CAAR (Collegium for African American Research) 2017 Conference in Malaga, Spain (Jun 13-16) in the panel, “Voices of Black America in the Diaspora: Comics, Cookbooks, & Film.”
The experience of being Black is more than just that of racial identification, it is a culture, a community, and an identity that varies between individuals. Although it is commonly used as an umbrella term for individuals of African descent, it can have different meanings in different countries and at different times. Blackness is simultaneously category, a group, and an identity. It is defined by having certain Afrocentric features (e.g., dark skin, curly hair, wide features). It is also defined by being a part of a group that is defined by these features, along with a common history and experience; however, one need not necessarily exhibit these features or report these experiences to be a part of the group. Finally, it is also defined by the extent to which any of these things matter to an individual; scholars have investigated this identity construct has been investigated by many scholars (e.g., nigrescence model, Cross, 1978; Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity, MIBI, Sellers, et al., 1998), but these measures do not define Blackness, but rather measure participants’ agreement with the certain dimensions of Blackness, which are often couched in American Blackness.
The ever-evolving African diaspora and generational changes demand a new investigation into our understanding of Blackness and the diversity of Blackness. Instead of couching questions and research in preexisting concepts of Blackness, the current research is an exploratory investigation into definitions of “Blackness” through open-ended interviews. American participants (N = 35) were asked to define Blackness in general, their personal Blackness (i.e., “my Blackness”), the future of Blackness, and the role of media in establishing and promoting Blackness moving forward; responses were coded for themes and analyzed for differences by age and gender.
Although participants provided a varied definition of Blackness, a clear theme emerged that Blackness involved an awareness of one’s history, a shared experience, and a comfort in one’s current skin with an idealized hope for the future. Furthermore, Blackness was defined as creative, resourceful, beautiful, ingenious, and diverse. Generational differences also began to emerge in participants’ contextualization of Blackness; many Baby Boomers were quick to dismiss the younger generation’s understanding of blackness, claiming that their Blackness was “no longer important.” However, several Millennials described their Blackness as dynamic and intersectional; for them, identities were no longer hierarchal (e.g., “Black or”), but integrated (e.g., “Black and”). Furthermore, this intersectional understanding of Blackness was aided by the proliferation of digital and social media; in the current environment, individuals no longer needed to rely on mainstream examples and models of Blackness (e.g., television, film, music); instead they could seek out models that represented their unique Blackness and carve new spaces for new definitions of Blackness (e.g., Afropunk, Queer Blackness, Black Twitter). The current research begins to address the evolving definition of Blackness and Black identity in an increasingly intersectional, globalized, and interconnected community. By understanding new concepts of Blackness, researchers, scholars, and media professionals can develop more nuanced understanding of identity and global culture.