Naomi Osaka Is Right: Some Of You Don't Know The Difference Between Race And Nationality
There are Black people all over the world -- their non-adjacency to America doesn't make them any less Black.
July 23, 2021 at 5:32 pm
If I had a dime for every person who wrongly assumed my race and nationality, I'd have enough money to pay myself reparations.
It's the half-Black part for me because that's totally incorrect. I am an all-Black woman who has one African American parent and one Latino parent. I only know this is confusing to some people because there are generally several follow-up questions.
"Where are you from?" they ask. I tell them, "New Jersey."
"Where are you really from?" they ask.
"New Jersey is a real place," I respond.
And we go back and forth until they ask where my parents are from.
Dissatisfied with the answers, New York and Louisiana, they undoubtedly hit me with, "No, what's your nationality?"
Now, as if I didn't already say that I'm from New Jersey, this street reporter will be surprised to learn that I am American. That snippet of an actual ongoing conversation is the story of my life. That's why I threw my fist in the air when I read a response from frustrated Olympian, Naomi Osaka, who has since the age of ten competed under the Japanese flag in worldwide competitions...because she was born in Japan.
"I don't choose America and suddenly people are like, 'Your Black card is revoked.' And it's like, African American isn't the only Black, you know?" Osaka said in her Netflix docuseries, as Blavity previously reported. "I don't know, I feel like people really don't know the difference between nationality and race because there's a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they're Brazilian."
While we can all acknowledge that race is a social construct, we also must acknowledge that we have accepted said social construct for hundreds of years. Merriam-Webster defines race as "a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits." While Dictionary.com defines nationality as "the status of belonging to a particular nation."
By the merit of these definitions, Osaka remains a Black woman no matter what her passport says or which flag she chooses to play under at the Olympics. And in fact, if you're familiar with her story then you know that her Black isn't American anyway. Her father, Leonard François, is a Haitian national who was born in Jacmel, Haiti.
But, let's get a little deeper into this Black people all over the world thing.
The first issue at hand is that "Black" is often used by people to either define race or interchangeably with the nearly-defunct nomenclature of African American. By that standard, Black Americans sometimes feel a sense of ownership to the word and the concept of it as a racial makeup. Maybe we have James Brown to thank for that. Before his 1968 mega-hit, "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," Black Americans were widely referred to as "negro." Brown was key in ushering in the Black Power movement. Unfortunately, Black unity worldwide didn't necessarily accompany the empowering trend.
But, here's the thing: we totally recognize Black people from other parts of the world as Black when we think they're American. Take the creation of hip-hop culture, for example. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the world who would dare not credit Black people with inventing the genre, but have you ever taken a second to look up some of these founder's countries of origin? DJ Kool Herc, who created the breakbeat at the infamous 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx, was born in Jamaica. Grandmaster Flash was born in Barbados and Afrika Bambaataa is a first-generation American of Jamaican and Barbadian descent. These three men are considered the Holy Trinity of hip-hop. Since they're also widely known as Black, I know that the concept of being Black outside of America isn't too foreign.
It's slavery, in large part, that led to Black people ending up all over the world. Enslaved Africans were quite literally shipped across the globe. To disqualify someone's adjacency to Blackness because they're not Black American is wayward in all kinds of ways.
My earliest known ancestor was a woman given the name Rose, who was born in Nigeria but hailed as a Jamaican national before being brought to Louisiana in 1779. However, and this is very important to note, even before that, world migrations took place hundreds of years before the widely-known slave trade.
These migrations would find darker-skinned peoples moving about the world nomadically and settling in areas like Central Mexico, the Iberian Peninsula and parts of South America, among countless other places across the globe. In much later years, things like exile and military duty would find Black people settling in other countries to start families. In the instances of military duty or other types of dual citizenship families, children of these unions are allowed to either maintain both citizenships or be forced to make a choice. It quite literally matters not where you've spent most of your life when the time comes to choose your citizenship.
Sure, Osaka's lived much of her life in the states, but the fact of the matter is, her being born in Japan allows her to honor her nationality in competitions that literally ask you to honor your nationality.
According to Biography.com, while Osaka grew up with both Japanese and U.S. citizenship, Japanese law requires that dual citizens choose between their Japanese citizenship and other passports at age 22. According to The Washington Post, the athlete relinquished her United States citizenship in 2019. The irony in the criticisms that followed is that there never was a requirement or option of choosing her race because that absolutely makes no sense. Per the Post, Osaka admitted that the Olympics played a role in her decision to choose Japan.
While she had been widely hailed as an American athlete, likely due to her many years living in the country, it should not be surprising that she would look to honor her birthplace, in particular during her first Olympics which are being held in her country of origin. And homegirl got to light the legendary cauldron with the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies!
Speaking of the Olympics, my earliest memory of seeing someone I thought to be an American athlete play for another country was Tony Kukoč, who during the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona became a silver medal Olympian under the Croatian flag. One year later, he was a forward on the Chicago Bulls, who helped the team to their second championship "3-peat." However, as 1996 rolled around, the NBA champion once again played under the Croatian flag at the Olympic Games.
While Kukoč is not Black, I am using an NBA example because I don't want anyone to blow their lids when our current league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo plays under the Greek flag someday. Surely, that would make him no less the Black man that many of us are bragging about right now. Another NBA example is Ben Simmons, who although withdrawn from the current summer games, was set to play for his birth country, Australia.
There's truly a sense of unmatched pride when you get to put on for your city, so revoking one's Black card simply because they choose to remain connected to their country of origin is a weird flex. The mirror ain't change their reflection, so why are you altering your view?