2009-07-06

Creole Culture and Racial Identification






For those who are not aware, I am Creole via my mother's side of the family. Creole has different meanings depending upon who you talk to. Some people identify Creole as being folks of mixed race, primarily French, Spanish, African, and Native American. It can also be black folks who were slaves in the region and adapted the culture and language.You can also be white and Creole. More than likely we were just slaves who picked up the culture, but the family tree is tricky. It could explain the recessive genes. My mother's family is from Louisiana and East Texas. We come primarily two parishes in Louisiana, and Creoles are found often in East Texas, some who primarily speak Creole, with English as a second language. I can barely speak a word of Creole, as to most it is considered a dying language. It is basically pidgin French.

With all that being said, there has been a resurgence in interest in Creole culture. There has also been a push for those of Creole descent to no longer be considered black, but rather be known as people of mixed race. Now you know the history of high yellow or mixed race folks in the black community. The Creole culture is no different. It was quite common that preference was made for those of a higher yellow persuasion by both whites and blacks. Being lighter skinned or less "ethnic" looking was considered more acceptable. If you were going to be cursed with being black, it was better to be light skinned than dark skinned according to whites. They were offered better jobs than their darker hued counterparts, and they themselves were very fond of the paper bag test.

My mother's family is fragmented, and only in the last decade or two have reunited. Part of this is due to a marriage in which my great grandmother chose someone too dark and too black. Yeah she was basically shunned by her family for marrying a dark skinned black man, my great grandfather. Yes she identified strongly as black, but she didn't necessarily look "black". She was fair skinned with dark fairly straight hair and green eyes. My other great grandmother on my mother's side was also considered creole, but she wasn't shunned for marrying black, as he was black Creole, I guess that made it ok; she was just what I called my white great grandmother, meaning she was black in terms of one drop, but in reality, she probably wasn't very black at all. Probably more of an octoroon, from what I can gather, we aren't very good with birth records in my family. She was fair skinned, with blue eyes, and black hair, no hint of color at all. She is the reason whenever someone with a mixed race child tells me their kids doesn't look black, I look at them crazy. Most mixed race children look black to me, at least those mixed with black and white. I am good at telling when people "pass". Wentworth Miller looked black to me from the get go, but many folks claim they can't tell. I was recently tricked about Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, I had no idea he was mixed, he didn't either until he was 40.

In Louisiana miscegenation laws outlawed marriage between races, but no cohabitation like other states, and many times those who did manage to get married lied about their race to get married, even white folks passed themselves off as black. So in reality, many Creoles don't really know their true racial mixture as a lot of passing for white or black occurred. When Jim Crow came, Creoles became black, many of them lived in small enclaves and were isolated anyway, so it wasn't a big deal, they were already segregated from both whites and non creole blacks. Not to mention all us blacks with slave ancestry have some mixed blood.

With that being said, I don't define myself as a Creole of Color. I call myself black. It is because my family calls themselves black. White folks aren't looking at Creole folks and coming up with derogatory words for Creole, they stick with the n-word. I don't understand the need to separate themselves from African Americans. If black people are mixed and Creoles are mixed, why must Creoles be separate from blacks aside from culture? Genetically we could very well all be the same. I consider the majority of my Native American ancestry to come from my father's side of the family, not my mother's. I can trace that much easier than I can the ancestry of my mother's family. I can see some of the French, but I also know there are huge holes in how folks identify on that side, partially due to Jim Crow.



I would love to have a resurgence of the education and language of Creole culture, it is dying and it needs to be preserved, I know my pidgin French is horrible, but I don't think we need to be separated from other cultures, primarily a culture that Creoles have been assimilated into, primarily black. Ray Nagin aka Mr. Chocolate City is a Creole, but obviously he identifies himself as "Chocolate" aka black. Can we not be both, if we come in all races and shades like many Creoles claim, why instead only identify as a "person of color" vs. "black"?