TED Conversations

Kyra Gaunt

Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur, Assoc.Professor, Kyraocity Works


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How did you first learn to be black or African or what was your earliest memory of learning about blackness/Africaness as different?

As a member of several social innovation communities, as a professor who teaches courses on the evolution and expressions of racism, and as a person of African descent in the United States (African American), I've been traveling around the world since becoming a TED Fellow and even before that asking people of all backgrounds, who did you first learn about racial differences between blacks and others, between Africans and others. The personal narratives people share have rocked my world.

A white woman from West Virginia who hated whites because the only people who ever loved her, kissed her, touched her with care, where two black woman her white father, a Vet caring for 4 girls alone after being abandoned by his wife. He had contracted them to raise her and her sisters. They had to leave in the midst of night to escape social services in the midst of the U.S. race riots of 1965-66. They moved to Ohio where people hated West Virginians (the politics of class among whites was surely at work her as well as the politics of state immigrations and unemployment at the time).

She remembered thinking "I can change my walk or my accent, if I wanted to." But the black women who were my caretakers while my dad worked could not change their skin color. That was her earliest memory as a white person. And she said that interpretation of life made her hate white people til she was well into her forties.

We met at a workshop I gave called AGREE TO BE OFFENDED (AND STAY CONNECTED) on racism as a resource in 2008 at the Conference for Global Transformation in San Francisco. I gave a workshop to 52 people from 3 continents and trained people in rethinking the social construct of race and difference that plagues all nations and groups on some level.

I could use any group here, but I think it's particularly enlightening to examine blackness and Africanness as member of the TED community and other social innovation settings where members of these communities are rarely prominent.


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  • Apr 28 2012: It seems to me that people in America confuse colour and race. Black is a colour. African is a race. The words are used interchangeably in America. For example, is Obama black? No , he is mixed race. Using colour makes one myopic and sometimes can cloud your racial origin . Tiger Woods is not black , to identify him by his colour is to cancel his Thai ancestry. Using race makes you think about your origin rather than lumping yourself under some administrative categorisation such as the word black.What do you think ?
    • Apr 30 2012: I think there is a lot of legitimacy to this argument. To me, there is a lot more than skin color that distinguishes the outer appearance of a typical 'African of origin' person--shape of nose, color and texture of hair, certain musculature, etc. Anyway, I think the major significance has much to do with the history of peoples, particularly in this country. I think one will just be confused until one takes a course on the history of the United States and gets some knowledge of the history of the world more broadly. I think it is legitimate to say that there are races and ethnic groups that still have some degree of integrity that traces back hundreds of years. So, we certainly can decide to label a person with one parent white and one parent black as black or not. It is arbitrary, but also traditional.
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      May 1 2012: I agree Kameel and Bob,
      "Using colour makes one myopic and sometimes can cloud your racial origin". Perhaps that is why the term "people of color" has been adopted by many Americans. By "Americans", I assume you mean everyone from the Arctic Ocean down to the tip of Argentina? Yes, I can see exactly how "lumping" labels can be confusing.

      The topic is:
      "How did you first learn to be black or African or what was your earliest memory of learning about blackness/Africaness as different?" Would you care to share your stories that are on topic?

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