Much of what I have studied & come to understand through history is that the true definition of an American is to be a White male who owns a home. This definition is crucial because it is based on how assimilation has ACTUALLY worked throughout history instead of how the larger society has told people how it works. As a Black African woman, I fit no where in that definition & my chances of being a “true” American are completely shot because those who define what it means to be “American” never intended for me to be able to access such a status. Many people discuss how the process of assimilating into a specific culture requires the shedding of one’s own culture & history & then embracing the prickly culture of the target/dominant society. The truth is assimilation in American society means that one must lose everything for the hopes of gaining a specific status, gaining approval from the dominant society; but for most Africans, this hope is never fulfilled, never met.
What is assimilation for Black Africans in America?
For the African in America, in many ways assimilation tells us to be something that we can never become without first assassinating our true selves. Assimilation is a process where a people of a minority group has shed their own culture & adapt to that of a dominant society. This assimilation requires that you shed your culture, forget your history, & embrace the mindset of an entirely different people. When African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement asked for integration, they most likely were NOT asking for White/Euro-Washing. But, truth be told, that is exactly what we have today among Black Africans in America. Many of the goals & definitions of Black Americans today are defined by how well Blacks adjust to the backwards American society. Black Africans are told to forget their history, forget slavery happened; & when they do remember slavery, remember that it wasn’t that bad anyway & White people don’t like for people to talk about it. This supposed assimilation & in many cases maladjustment is really a means of pacification. It ensures that an individual is not dangerous or a threat to dominant White supremacy. We all see what happens to Black Africans when they don’t know their history right? They further the White supremist, imperialist, & capitalist agenda better than any White/Euro-American ever could. Assimilation into American society & culture is marketed as “standards of success” to all peoples of color, all oppressed peoples. Everyone is told that the bar is set at chronic individualism, social sociopathy, selfishness, White supremacy, capitalism, sexism, patriarchy, & ignorance. People are strangling each other to try to meet these standards. You may have heard many Black Africans claim that many of us are “just crabs in a bucket”. It is true in a number of ways, many of us kill each other as we strive to achieve assimilation & adjustment to a society maladjusted to sociopathy. Measuring the success of the oppressed peoples by how many of us have adjusted & assimilated to this sick American society is NOT success at all. It is time for Black Africans to create their own means/measurements of success instead of accepting the White washed criteria that was handed to us.
Colorism & the Lily Complex as Part of the Assimilation Curriculum
One of the leading mindsets among the assimilation initiative is “Colorism”. Colorism is a mindset/belief that lighter-skinned sisters & brothers are better in EVERY way possible than their darker-skinned brothers & sisters. Colorism is the result of racism. Colorism is a symptom of racism that plagues the Black African community. I mention colorism because through colorism & the lily complex, one can see how assimilation may be more of an “achievable” goal for those of the lighter complexion within the Black African community. Now with that in mind, we can see how colorism works with racism to deem the lily complex as the only means for proper assimilation for those of the darker complexion. The lily complex is when Black African women “whiten” their appearance in an aim to cover up their physical selves to assimilate & be accepted as attractive. Colorism & the Lily complex are two versions of internalized oppression within the Black community, the end result when Black Africans buy into the negative perceptions & stereotypes of the dominant society. The use/employment of the lily complex goes hand in hand with self-rejection. It is part of the belief that one’s natural self is not good enough & not attractive enough. Embracing colorism is the first step in embracing the inferiority complex then the lily complex is employed as a means of assimilation, a means of conforming. As Shorter-Gooden & Jones state, “…African American women across the country feel pressure to alter their appearance as best they can, and many are wracked with feelings of inferiority. … It is possible to dye your brown tresses platinum and still love your Blackness. For many women, such changes may simply be another means of self-expression. And for others, shifting their appearance is just one of many conscious compromises they make to ensure that their White coworkers and peers feel comfortable with them and don’t make presumptions about their attitude or politics based on the way they dress, the way they style their hair, or other superficialities. These women are aware that others may find Eurocentric characteristics more appealing and that being seen as attractive can help them integrate certain circles and access certain opportunities. So they conform to survive, to get along, to achieve” (2008, p.178-9). These maladjustments to the dominant society result in Black African women & men using bleaching products on their skin, dying their hair blonde, rejecting their history, rejecting their people, & Black African women being 5 times more likely to use beauty products than White/Euro-American women.
Much of what is required for Black Africans to assimilate requires that they embrace dangerously poisonous mindsets. They have to reject the self, reject their heritage, reject their people, & run towards the cold embrace of their oppressor. Embracing America’s rigid standards & hatred for everything Black & Brown have resulted in self-hate among the Black African communities in America. America is not a melting pot, America is a bleaching pot. The encouragement of Black Africans to forget their history, heritage, hate themselves & fade to Whiteness is in no way safe. It does not result in a healthy society filled with people who do not see race, it results in a world dictated by White supremist standards & structuralism.
If you must hate & reject your natural self in order to assimilate (& keep in mind that the hopes for success & approval from White America is not guaranteed & its success rate is less than 0.0000009%), then it is NOT worth it. Assimilation requires the assassination of the truth, the assassination of who YOU are. Too many Black Africans are walking around thinking that the norm is a White standard & that it has always been that way. NO, White supremacy & racism do not need to have a monopoly on your hair, your body, your history, your community, your mindset, your people, your perceptions, YOU. Assimilation is defeat. Assimilation is assassination.