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Culture Shift? More Black Women Are Calling Themselves Brown

Avatar • Jun 25, 2015

What do Pretty Brown Girls, For Brown Girls and #SmartBrownGirl all have in common? They are all organizations started by black women aimed to uplift black women and girls, among others.

Brown’ is becoming a more acceptable way for black women to describe themselves and, to some, a contemporary alternative to ‘black’ or ‘African American’.

The #SmartBrownGirl movement was started by popular natural hair and life vlogger Jouelzy. She addressed her choice to name her movement in a blog post earlier this year:

On the topic of why Brown and not Smart Black Girl…which honestly I find to be such a petty and searching for nothing good question. But…I guess. Women of color all over the world are often put down and set down under the same universal tones. And as my world grows, as my preview is exposed to different ways of life, one never knows the possibilities for cross-cultural connections. Most importantly I did not want to get caught up in policing what is “Black.” Growing up I was never Black enough and I didn’t want to give any credence to that argument being made against any of my other #SmartBrownGirls. Whether they are of mixed ethnicity or coming into their own understanding of how they define being a woman of color, this was not to be an argument. I do identify as a Black woman and even amongst peers who look like me, that is a debated topic on how we should identify. African over being Black? black American, Black American, or African American? Igbo, Fulani, or Kikuyu? This is a discussion that can spin on for forever with no landing, so #SmartBrownGirl allows for you to make it what you want, even within how you racially and/or ethnically identify, while casting a net that can expand over time.

Pretty Brown Girls is mainly comprised of African American girls, but describes itself as “a global initiative that encourages girls and women to celebrate the shades of brown all over the world…”

The politics of what African descendants in America should call themselves is ongoing. A 2012 Associated Press article traces the roots of the debate;

In Latin, a forerunner of the English language, the color black is “niger.” In 1619, the first African captives in America were described as “negars,” which became the epithet still used by some today.

The Spanish word “negro” means black. That was the label applied by white Americans for centuries.

The word black also was given many pejorative connotations – a black mood, a blackened reputation, a black heart. “Colored” seemed better, until the civil rights movement insisted on Negro, with a capital N.

Then, in the 1960s, “black” came back – as an expression of pride, a strategy to defy oppression.

Every time black had been mentioned since slavery, it was bad,” says Mary Frances Berry, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Reclaiming the word “was a grass-roots move, and it was oppositional. It was like, ‘In your face.’ ”

Afro-American was briefly in vogue in the 1970s, and lingers today in the names of some newspapers and university departments. But it was soon overshadowed by African-American, which first sprouted among the black intelligentsia.”

So what do you think ladies? Speaking objectively black people are very much ‘brown’. Our skin can range from the deepest ebony to the lightest beige.

On the other hand, the word ‘black’ has a lot of cultural weight and meaning, even though it is descriptively inaccurate.

What are your thoughts?

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omfg
Guest
omfg

so, basically they are running away from perceived negative connotation of the word black. black people annoy me so much. also, it bothers me that they derived their perception of this word from europeans, which tells me they are certainly concerned (even obsessed) with the wrong thing. aren’t there people in some parts of africa who referred to themselves as black or a word similar to it in their own languages before white people? i have to believe they had references for skin color as some were blue black and others were lighter. and i’m sure that many of the… Read more »

jazinegrrrl
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jazinegrrrl

Thank you! African-Americans are suffering from an identity crisis and a perpetual pathological obsession with relating to themselves always from the opposition of whiteness and white supremacy. This is downright embarrassing.

ama
Guest
ama

agree 100! but I will say again that the program is one more step in the right direction.

All Shades
Guest
All Shades

I don’t completely understand her reason, but Desi people in the US and UK consider themselves brown. I’m guessing this could be her way of being inclusive of all shades???? At the end of the day we are all black. Labels are just labels. The facts are apparent.

canuckgirl416
Guest
canuckgirl416

How exactly is Jouelzy silly and immature? I find her to be the exact opposite. She uses her channel to address important topics and forces you to think. She was one of the few who addressed the tragedy in Charleston when all others made videos about shopping hauls, OOTD and other trivial crap. Everyone and their momma participated in the Ice Bucket challenge but when black people are dying and black churches are burning that is when you choose to be silent? Speak up and be heard.

canuckgirl416
Guest
canuckgirl416

My previous comment must have been deleted or is still awaiting moderation, but whatever. How is Jouelzy silly and immature? I think she is the exact opposite. Is it because she speaks her mind and doesn’t care what anyone thinks? Is that it? Or maybe it’s because she uses her platform to discuss important topics and provide intellectual content that makes you actually think for a change. Yep, that must be it. Jouelzy is one of the few vloggers who actually took the time to make a video on the tragedy in Charleston when other vloggers were too busy filming… Read more »

R Says
Guest
R Says

Nope, I’m black (and proud)

bumper UK
Guest
bumper UK

Pure foolishness — the Asians in the UK call themselves brown, so how are we to distinguish? Black and proud!!

rose
Guest
rose

When I see “Brown Girls” I think Desi, Arab, Amerindian, South East Asian, etc.

Basically, Non-Black WOC.

fancycoils
Guest
fancycoils

To the self-hating negro, I don’t know which is worse…being black or being dark. This and the blog post from the other day making distinctions between “medium” and “dark” skin are getting all the side eyes.

When it comes to blackness, it seems that people these days are doing the most to distinguish themselves from it.

Newsflash: If you are of African ancestry, you are black. There are 32 shades of skin and unless your shade is in the top five-ish (i.e. white or white-looking), you’re dark.

Guest
Guest
Guest

MPO–People overthink this way to much.

Camille
Guest
Camille

I’ve always described and thought of myself as black and brown interchangeably. Black is my ethnicity and brown is my actual color. I feel as brown as I do black. I didn’t know other people found that concept so threatening, but all kinds of people are always policing black women’s behavior. I guess Joulezy and those pro Balck Women organizations failed to properly identify themselves and that must mean they are self hating. This is silly. ALL black women are brown BTW and always have been. Is Ebony magazine self hating, too? That word means brown- not black.

B.
Guest
B.

There is nothing wrong with referring to yourself as brown. And I believe it is okay to include other brown people (Asian, North African, mixed, aboriginal) in the black and brown color spectrum. Calling myself a smart brown girl doesn’t mean that I will not refer to myself as a smart black woman as well. If you don’t like their movements then don’t buy the merchandise. Simple.
We were born carrying cultural weight, whether we call ourselves black, brown, African American, etc.

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

I think that when it comes to the color of the wheel my skin color is brown not black. I don’t see an issue on people calling themselves brown rather than black because after all what they call themselves has no baring on how fabulous I am, and vice-verse. Franckly I’m Indigenous- American and African-American so I have this gorgeous copper color that comes out in my skin especially when I have been in the sun for a while, so I tell people that I’m Mocha-Latte with a sprinkle of Cinnamon. However here in California they call that a Mexican… Read more »

Rea Fe Greenage
Guest
Rea Fe Greenage

That is going to be confusing for some of us. I been going to Buzzfeed website where one article show Indian women showing their rainbow color hair, and to my surprise they called themselves brown girls. I have heard Hispanics are called brown people for a very long time. I was always been called brown girl or brownie in Jamaica, there are some women with lighter to medium being called brown. I don’t understand why people would want to make more category for people of different race or color of skin.

Liz
Guest
Liz

I don’t really have any problem with it (although I do prefer Black because of all the history and culture that comes along with that specific description) but I was under the impression that Brown was used to describe non-Black women of color, especially Indian and South Asian women.

Sophie
Guest
Sophie

I actually like the term brown in the context of lifting people up. Like you say in the piece, black came into favor during times of rebellion. I think we’re in a time when we need the strength of that term as much as ever, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with using brown in the situations noted.

cryssi
Guest
cryssi

I care and don’t care at the same time. My skin is the color of honey mixed with cinnamon leaning towards a cinnamon stick in the summer and honey butter in the winter.… I’m a black woman with varying brown skin. As a child I was confused by this, but now I just take it for what it is.….words

Smidggy
Guest
Smidggy

All my life I was told I was never black enough (what does that even mean???) and that was by the black community. In Jamaica we are called brownings. There are a group of people who are considered black by one community and not considered black within their own. I can understand someone identifying with the term brown after all their life the same black community calls them brown and then turns around and persecutes them for not being black enough. I am proud of both my chinese and african heritage and recognize the struggle and accomplishment of both races.… Read more »

JustaThought
Guest
JustaThought

While I can understand why some African American women would be upset that part of the basis for using the color “brown” instead of “black” would be to stay away from whatever negative connotations were previously — and still today, by some people — associated with labeling something as black, I can see why brown may be seen as more far-reaching among woman of color. A lot of the time I feel like people use the term Black and African-American (or of direct African descent) interchangeably and kind of forget or just wash over all the other of woman of… Read more »

ama
Guest
ama

9 times out of 10 those women aint checkin for black “brown” people lol. ive had a woman who was nearly naomi campbell skin color stand on my porch and tell me she wasnt black. mind you we wasnt talkin bout race at all it was my first time seein the heifer but she said this to me seven times. yes I counted. she was puerto rican. it’s crazy that alot of latinos think we dont know that in the d.r., mexico, columbia, etc they still need to check or are labelled a raza on forms and censuses registers

Aly
Guest
Aly

That’s a whole other conversation, because most Latinos have generational self-hate for their African ancestry and try to distance themselves as much as they can from it because they believe the white standard is the normal and good standard. I lived in Puerto Rico for a year around Dominicans and Puertoricans. The light-skinned Puertoricans & Dominicans called themselves white while the black ones would emphasize they’re ethnicity rather than their skin tone. It’s sad, but true.

jasminew
Guest
jasminew

my makeup says beige…

Carlyssa Pierre
Guest
Carlyssa Pierre

lmao mine says Tahoe o.0

Eyes4Daze
Guest

I am not light skin nor am I dark skin. My complexion is brown. And the jealousy and hatred that dark skin women direct toward light skin brown women is so unnecessary and negative. Brown girls are inclusive and positive. Positive dark girls are included.

Sharon37
Guest
Sharon37

Everyone tries to find someone to look down on and it’s a clear signal of low self esteem. You sound like an arrogant foolish little girl. Stop encouraging colorism within our community. Dark skin girls are constantly put down by everyone. They take a harder hit than other black girls. So, bringing your tired behind on this website and adding more dirt to the pile serves no purpose but to boost your fledging little ego, get a grip. Go to Russia or Germany and tell them how brown you are and see if they care before they go all neo… Read more »

Mr logical guy
Guest
Mr logical guy

That was clearly a troll post.….ignore them.

ama
Guest
ama

exactly well said. these chicks are trippin including Jouelzy on this topic. Let them tell Mexicans they are brown and have brown pride and see what reaction they get. thats why it says open to all but is essentially made up of black people because aint nobody castin they lot in with black people it really is us against the world. Black has been about way more than a color since the boats rolled up on Mama Africa’s shores. Black Power forever!

Eyes4Daze
Guest

Dark skin women are not harder hit than anyone. And all of my commentary was to diffuse the lies you dark skin women love to spew. You are mean spirited and ugly on the inside. And when someone points to what is wrong inside of you, you lie and say its based on your skin color. You are just a sorry hater and nobody likes a hater. I know I am black and I don’t use it as shield or an excuse like you.

Cre8ive
Guest
Cre8ive

Amen!

BlueCornMoon
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BlueCornMoon

This color mess needs to vanish. I remember a teacher getting mad at me in elementary school lesson on the races of man because I said brown when she asked me what my race was. She even called my mom & told her she was teaching me to be ashamed of being black. As a little kid looking around in those segregated days, all I saw was a whole slew of shades of brown from very light to very dark as in brown black. My own complexion is medium brown like Angela Bassett

Bree
Guest
Bree

”Black people” is the name white people gave us. I reject it, I like the idea of black people calling themselves what they want for a change.

I personnaly find that ”black people” have a skin color closer to brown then black, wheater they are ”light” skin or ”dark” skin. They call me black, I call myself brown, golden, magical, sun kissed melanite.

betrayal
Guest
betrayal

What color would you call model Alec Wek? brown, no I do not think do…

bree
Guest
bree

@betrayal
I just looked at pics of her, her skin is very deep dark brown, but it’s far from black like charcoal let’s say…That’s what I described in my comment. So…

Plus you can call yourself black or brown if you want to and I will do the same, thank you!

https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSIQbxcBWTzkwVBLscy1jeUM-LcqCiz3dHLCXPQfQGfesiIBblyDA

Atekam Trebloc
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Atekam Trebloc

She is dark brown. Nowhere near the color black like the crayon. Soooooo.…what is your point?

Nikki C
Guest
Nikki C

this is a dumb article. People in the Caribbean have been using that term “brown girl” brown skin girl for decades possibly longer. Why is this a problem? Why is this a topic? We are brown, look at the different shades of brown in our complexion

maralondon
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maralondon

Depends on your mind set. My parents are from the Caribbean but I’ve never referred to anyone as brown always black and many shades as black.

Aly
Guest
Aly

I don’t agree with your first sentence, because I do believe this is a relevant topic, but also being Caribbean I agree with the rest of your sentiment, brown is the norm because we’re all different shades of it, period.

lisa
Guest
lisa

I would never fall for the head games that the haters of black people attempt to trick me with. Being black makes me very proud of the strength of my ancestors and the unimaginable hate that they endured so that I can stand in this world today. Lucifer is and has always been a liar. When our ancestors lived in peace they were able to build the Great Pyramids because they didn’t have haters in their face 24 hours a day. The ancient Egyptians called themselves the ” KHEM ” people khem means “black”. I would never deny or disrespect… Read more »

ama
Guest
ama

yes the pyramids, kush, timbuktu, mansa musa all things to be proud of and all Black! Ill pass on the brown girl movement thanks

maralondon
Guest
maralondon

I was just going to mention this, though there was a time growing up that Asians(Indians, Pakistanis etc..) as well as people of African descent were under the same black umbrella. I am aware of how the term came about but Europeans definition of Black being negative means the complete opposite to me. I do not allow them to shape the way I think of myself and my people and I could care less for the brown label.

OXxo
Guest
OXxo

Gets even more confusing if you meet people who are Aboriginal, Fijian and from some Pacific Islands. “Thanks” to the varied lands the British colonised anyone who isn’t White used to be Black and in some cases e.g . Aborigines, still are.

Regardless of what you call yourself it will still be used by people to divide and conquer. For example if you visit Australia hangout with some Black people who are Aboriginal, Pacific Islander or mixture then you will be treated differently even though you are also Black.

maralondon
Guest
maralondon

Are you saying that the people native to those lands will treat us differently? I remember years ago a Fijian man got his European friend to ask me where I was from. When asked her why he wanted to know she told me that he was convinced I was Fijian. There’s always going to be that crossover with us no matter where we come from.

Corelle Perry
Guest
Corelle Perry

So, I am reading and taking all of this in…*thinking for a second** Here is my conclusion: “Meh!” Although I understand both sides to this, however I won’t spend time myself overthinking this. There are other things to ponder about ‚i.e. how do we as a race continue to live (‘Can I live?’, yes quoting Beyonce!) with the huge elephant in the room called racism. (In Chicago, 19 African Americans between the ages of 14–21 were shot and killed, do our lives really matter??) This is what’s on my mind…

Lisa Dea
Guest
Lisa Dea

But I’m def English Jamiacan Irish! For 48 years on this planet I’ve adored my mix.…but I’m Lisa first.… Then my cultures! Im so glad to have been born in a wicked open minded multicultural city like Manc to lead the way!

ama
Guest
ama

yea but you said name first cultures second instead of color. this is where you are ahead of the pack. in the us at least most mixed people are not taught Black culture or even a specific european nation’s culture(just usin white because that is the most common mix and she is irish) so because they dont have their cultures to ground them they start to focus overly on skin color to define them cuz aint nobody comin for somebody that got their culture on lock and is firmly rooted in their history language and culture symbols.

Fluckneesha Ewebanks
Guest
Fluckneesha Ewebanks

I’ve been brown since the day I was born. It’s nothing new.

ama
Guest
ama

well you dont look so smart right now because up above she herself said she calls herself a black woman so…and did you just mention bein ndn and sayin you copper as a description?! you might just might have native in your dna but sayin that shows you aint got it in your culture and soul. wow. might as well have said you got high cheekbones and made it a pair. wow.

betrayal
Guest
betrayal

thank you, these comments are killin me.…American society the world will look at all of us as BLACK.….PERIOD… ya BLACK!!!!

ama
Guest
ama

exactly! there’s always a meaning behind a name especially when you talk about branding. and the comment about distancing was all up in my interpretation of the above tribe name including comment. I agree with the actual program but the name though. and to the ppl who say they were confused by whether they were black or brown as children, did you spend more than an hour of your entire childhood thinking about this?

Philly Jawn
Guest
Philly Jawn

Ive always called my self brown my skin is brown my family is mixed up of west indies spanish african american irish im brown so what ?

maralondon
Guest
maralondon

My family is also from the Caribbean but please explain what you mean by ‘mix up of West Indies’. Since that label was given to us because the conquers thought they had landed West of India how does it define the people living in those regions people who for the most part were transported from their original land.

Aliyah Morrison
Guest
Aliyah Morrison

Um no you coons obviously don’t know your history before slavery . I’m a BLACK WOMAN and im proud of my BLACK AND AFRICAN HERITAGE ! I swear black people are the most self hating coons in the world now they hate to be called BLACK wow ! Smh we won’t progress as a race with all this bulk shit !

Memyself
Guest
Memyself

ok soo, maybe…just maybe progress would be made if you had some kind of argument explaining your point of view instead of insulting other women. Your comment as it is now is not exactly what I’d call a contribution to this CONVERSATION…

caty
Guest
caty

Exactly. I’m not a coon lol I’m technically brown but my ethnicity is black/African american. Not a coon whatsoever, maybe the original poster should stop throwing around words. & stop generalizing all black people as coons. Because that means you’re a coon as well since “black people are the most self hating coons..”

Atekam Trebloc
Guest
Atekam Trebloc

You are part of the problem you so loathe, especially by your rant calling blacks “coons.” You just disrespected yourself as well as the very people you want to unite. SMH. So what if our skin tone is brown, dark brown, light brown, caramel brown, and we say we are brown or black. That does not make anyone of us “coons.” I’m actually a human being not an animal, which Inthink 99.99999% of blacks are humans too.

Working2wisdom
Guest
Working2wisdom

Such interesting, confusing and disappointing responses… I’m was born and live in the UK and yes we are primarily referred to as “black” over here, whereby those from South Asian communities( Indians/Pakistanis) referred to as “brown” although myself and my family members skin tone can be much lighter if not the same tone, with some South Asians been much darker. The last count was that 32 shades of ” black” skin existed ( some clever person may know different). I’ve started to refer to myself as ” brown” as this is what my tone portrays; this is what I am… Read more »

BB Shark
Guest
BB Shark

A whole’lotta screaming, and no rational thinking.

All Shades
Guest
All Shades

Interesting article. I have only heard the term “brown” used to describe South Asians specifically Desi people and culture. I’ve even watched YouTube videos with this term in reference to Desis only and I thought this article was going to mention it. Well I look in the mirror and consider myself a shade a brown so this term works for me and all the other shades in the world.

All Shades
Guest
All Shades

Yes. Specifically Desi people in the Us and UK. That is interesting. I never heard of other South Asians besides Desi who refer to themselves as “brown.”

Cheri
Guest
Cheri

To me, this is sad. We don’t know what to call ourselves. No other race in the world has the problem of self identity as African Americas/Blacks/Brown people/Negros/Colored folks…

HeavnsGirl
Guest
HeavnsGirl

No other “race” has been treated the way that we have and has had their history & culture systematically dismantled.

We really can’t be compared to “others.”

Cheri
Guest
Cheri

Which is why this is sad to me. I don’t use the word “sad” to be cynical. I really mean sad as in grievous. It’s sad that our identities have been stolen from us and we have to grapple around in the dark looking for an acceptable term to describe us a a people. No matter what color, or word we come up with to describe us it will never be enough to fill the void that has been left behind by the rape of colonialism and white supremacy.

HeavnsGirl
Guest
HeavnsGirl

Most of us ARE brown, and not “black” as we were dubbed by slavers. I have no problem with black women & girls defining ourselves FOR ourselves. Also, this does cut down on the fighting caused by some folks constantly trying to kick mixed folks out of the race.

HeavnsGirl
Guest
HeavnsGirl

Oh, and there’s this discussion from years ago: http://bglh-marketplace.com/2010/09/black-brown-or-yellow/

Lee
Guest
Lee

Culture? No. They drank the Kool-Aid and are dealing in United States ‘colorism’. People, please study your ancient Black and African story; it’s on the internet, you’re on the internet,
therefore there is no excuse to be, and to present to the world, this type of ignorance. You merely bring mockery and disgrace on yourself when you do. Because, trust me, the world knowledgeables in their country’s seats of power well know of the glory and dignity of the Black culture.

Over it
Guest
Over it

This is just foolishness. When people have no culture this is what happens. Happy self categorisation. Me, I’m proud to be black.

Philly Jawn
Guest
Philly Jawn

huh? i mean i have some west indie family i have some spaninsh i have a mother and father with different cultures thats what i meant

Aly
Guest
Aly

When I was in preschool I was called black for the very first time in my life by two white children & I hated it. I responded, “No, I’m brown!” I don’t like the word black when someone uses it to define me. It’s always felt like a harsh description & I have never been comfortable with it. I’m Jamaican & in my household and whenever I go home (Jamaica) black isn’t always used to describe someone; you’re either dark or light-skinned. I’m not speaking for all Jamaicans that’s just what I’ve been exposed to. I grew up in African… Read more »

Vanessa Zacheary
Guest
Vanessa Zacheary

All my life I described myself as being a: strong black independent queen.. Now I say I’m brown because one of the most handsome and wholesome man I was dating in my college years told me I have beautiful brown skin. I thought about it and it stuck. So, now I’m a strong brown independent queen. My message is to be proud of who you are.

Stephine Griffith
Guest
Stephine Griffith

Black is a skin tone so is brown so I am a brown girl

lis
Guest
lis

Well yeah… and I blame rap and hiphop…for decades now BLACK WOMEN have been insulted, hated, demeaned and degraded amongst Black people..so of course Black women are running away from the Black woman label…not so for Black males…they are worshipped, protected, and propped up amongst Blacks(some)…so.…and of course Black women will deflect and make up excuses about why they are running away from the Black label.….so

lis
Guest
lis

Therapy..or go back to Jamaica…sorry..but I’m tired of this excuse…because everything they show of Jamaica(outside of resorts)or Africa is slums and ghettos too…so you all have that stereotype but when you all come here you all want or need someone to look down on and of course it’s Black Americans.

Aly
Guest
Aly

There’s no need to be rude & I’m not making an excuse. I don’t need therapy & you don’t have the right to tell me where I should go, I’m merely pointing out the facts & shedding a light on how I was taught & raised. Just because I was taught to identify myself doesn’t mean I look down on African Americans, I sound American when spoken to & many people in this country have an assumption that all black/brown people are African American, I’m merely educating them on my identity. And when I refer to ghetto I’m talking about… Read more »

Atekam Trebloc
Guest
Atekam Trebloc

Well, my skin color is literally brown not black, so I’ve started saying I’m brown not black. Maybe to be more of a smart‑a**. I’ve always wondered why “blacks” are called black and Hispanics are called “brown” when none of our skin is literally black in color.
I’m so juvenile. Lol!

Truthbetold
Guest
Truthbetold

Are we really calling ourselves after colors of crayons. We are Israelites.

Afrodeity
Guest
Afrodeity

Well for me I am African by race, Trinidadian and Bajan (or Barbadian as some say) by culture and British by nationality. I am not a colour and my race is not a continent, country or island that a slave master dumped me in. I am African. If more “black” people identified with Africa then we would not be having this pointless debate of whether to call ourselves black, brown, beige or sepia. Whether East indians are in India, the Caribbean, Russia, Africa, America or Australia they still identify as Indian first and Nationality second.

BlackGirlShortHair
Guest
BlackGirlShortHair

But seriously tho, who cares if they call themselves blue or purple?! Rose by any name wld smell rose. Although, I do agree the word black isn’t right. Most Africans are dark brown. but then like I said, “who cares”. I am more than my colour.

jackoffjill
Guest
jackoffjill

i think the reality is that you can call yourself brown, black, purple or pink — people are going to judge you based on your appearance, your perceived ethnicity and your race regardless. as an ethnic indian who is not from india, i use the word brown to describe myself. i strongly doubt that anyone will ever mistake me as being of african descent. and i strongly doubt that anyone will ever mistake someone with african roots as being indian, regardless of the label.

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