Brown Sugar isn’t a glorification of slavery, or the objectification of black women with connotations of slavery, it is a historical account of how the African hyphen American came to be. Emphasis on the hyphen. Black is black I thought until going to Europe, blanketing the ethnic rainbow of us all.
“They’re going to love you over there, they rarely get to see African Americans.”
“What do you mean? They have black people in Paris…” I questioned and answered, while puzzled. An amalgamation of emotions all at once.
Between reading Kindred and my Parisian experience, as if absorbing the former that year prepared me for the latter, I learned the distinction.
“Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free…’be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand Assembly, that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.’ With this decree, the colonists were breaking from English legal precedent, the only precepts they ever known, the ancient order that gave children of black women, the vast majority of whom were enslaved, as their property for life and for ensuing generations. It invited them to impregnate the women themselves if so inclined, the richer it would make them. It converted the black womb into a profit center and drew sharper lines around the subordinate caste, as neither mother nor child could make a claim against an upper-caste man, and no child escaping from a black womb could escape condemnation to the lowest rung. It moved the colonies toward a bipolar hierarchy of whites and nonwhites, and specifically a conjoined caste of whites at one end of the ladder and, at the other end, those deemed black, due to any physical manifestation of African ancestry.”
To be African American means being both the English slave master and the raped African woman. Brown Sugar tells the story of our creation, we are the embodiment of both, the epitome of duality. We are condemned and belittled by Africans for having tainted blood due to European lineage, whilst being told to go back to our country by hateful/ignorant whites. This is our country though, we built it.
“At the end of the day my line can be traced back to a warrior, yours to a slave master,” my African friend told me.
“My ancestry can be traced back beyond the slave master to a warrior too, the only difference is I don’t know where [or who]. Oh that’s right, you helped sell us. You’re part of the problem, why I don’t know my family history,” a venomous response.
Our argument started when I told her to read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a novel that illuminates the split. She felt it was beneath her, believing herself better than me because her line was pure, no white weakness, never a slave. Except we were enslaved, as in forced, kidnapped, tortured. And if you want to talk warrior, we exemplified it. Did we not come here bound and illiterate? Are we not free from the chains that literally shackled us in a strange New World? Did we not make room for you to be in America? Beneath you? We are nothing short of miracles capable of the extraordinary. And look at the art we birthed from our blues, from music to fashion we left nothing untouched. We hyphens are the culture. I could not believe while I saw us as black, she saw me as black and lesser, because being black is to be distinctly African-American, not African. Unless you’re in America, then you’re black by force.
Everyone always tries to put black women down while stealing our aesthetic. Except our beauty was so coveted from the jump, they had to make laws to justify their lust, creating a whole new “race.” Black women aren’t just a swipe left on Tinder. ‘Brown Sugar’, which the majority of listeners believes praises Marsha Hunt and hot black women in general, is a reminder of that. It also limns the significance of black women’s influence in rock n’ roll as muses. Yes, it’s horrific, but it’s accurate and part of our narrative. The Rolling Stones aren’t singing about their ideal world, but the real one, that’s why it makes you uncomfortable. Banning the song from shows is an erasure of history specific to the AFRICAN-AMERICAN experience, our genesis. We get so little respect and do the most. My African friend only solidified my post Paris hyphen awareness.
I was fawned over by white Europeans and side-eyed by Africans who did not embrace me. How could they even tell the difference? Endeavoring to walk in their shoes I saw for the first time the glaring contrast in our complexions and features. I realized how ignorant I was, how American, how brown my skin is with it’s red undertone. This is how they knew. Like it or not hyphens, we are the coalescence of the master and their victims, an epigenetic hot mess. If black Alice in Kindred didn’t save redheaded Rupert, the slave owner, she would’t exist. He too was an ancestor. That’s why I say play Brown Sugar, it’s the story of our roots. Let it make you proud of our strength, as we reconcile being born from both the things we love and hate. Let it move you to action as we dismantle the paradigms of oppression, but don’t rob us of the truth. Via: The 60s Bazaar