Black and White: Everything’s Relative

I learnt at an early age that everything is relative when it comes to physical features and appearance.

During my early childhood I lived in Spain and Brazil. Over there I was considered “rubio” and “louro” which both words mean blonde in Spanish and Portuguese respectively, but they also mean light skinned or fair.

When I was nine,  my family moved to Denmark and I remember being told that I was not blonde. The children who accused me of this, and whom I hopelessly argued against, were of course blonde and blue eyed, like most Danes. My light brown hair, which had so often identified me as blonde, was now all of a sudden very dark and my greenish-brown Mediterranean eyes did not help my cause either.

Later on as a grown man, when I married a woman from Haiti, I remember she would sometimes tell me that there are white people in her country. But when I visited Haiti, I noticed that the people my wife was referring to as white, were what in the U.S. and Europe people would always call black. They were basically light skinned black people. No one in Europe or in the U.S. would dare call these “white” people white.

In fact, the nick name of one of my brother-in-laws is “blanc,” which means white in French, and this is because he is considered light-skinned, but as you can probably guess, he is very dark skinned, and very African looking to the lay person.  It appears these people are referred to as white by my wife and others in Haiti because they can see they are lighter skinned, or that they have some European features which are uncommon to them. It seems that the word “white” in Haiti, has a similar meaning to the word “black” in the U.S. where everything that is not 100% white could be referred to as black.

What is also interesting is that some of those people my wife referred to as white, were so dark skinned that even in Latin America or in the Spanish world, they would not be called  mulatos, a word that is commonly used in Spanish but is considered a pejorative by some people in the English speaking world, which means someone who is half-white and half-black, like our president, Mr. Barack Obama, and kind of like my children.

So in conclusion, it is to one’s advantage that everything is relative and that we don’t have to live inside labels that are true in one place but false in the next.

Copyright © 2012  By Jorge L. Carbajosa

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