Necessarily Black: Cape Verdean Youth, Hip-Hop Culture, and a Critique of Identity

Necessarily Black: Cape Verdean Youth, Hip-Hop Culture, and a Critique of Identity

by P. Khalil Saucier


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Necessarily Black is an ethnographic account of second-generation Cape Verdean youth identity in the United States and a theoretical attempt to broaden and complicate current discussions about race and racial identity in the twenty-first century. P. Khalil Saucier grapples with the performance, embodiment, and nuances of racialized identities (blackened bodies) in empirical contexts. He looks into the durability and (in)flexibility of race and racial discourse through an imbricated and multidimensional understanding of racial identity and racial positioning. In doing so, Saucier examines how Cape Verdean youth negotiate their identity within the popular fabrication of “multiracial America.” He also explores the ways in which racial blackness has come to be lived by Cape Verdean youth in everyday life and how racialization feeds back into the experience of these youth classified as black through a matrix of social and material settings. Saucier examines how ascriptions of blackness and forms of black popular culture inform subjectivities. The author also examines hip-hop culture to see how it is used as a site where new (and old) identities of being, becoming, and belonging are fashioned and reworked. Necessarily Black explores race and how Cape Verdean youth think and feel their identities into existence, while keeping in mind the dynamics and politics of racialization, mixed-race identities, and anti-blackness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611861686
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2015
Series: Black American and Diasporic Studies Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 789,588
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

P. Khalil Saucier is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Africana Studies Program at Rhode Island College.

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Necessarily Black

Cape Verdean Youth, Hip-Hop Culture, and A Critique Of Identity

By P. Khalil Saucier

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2015 P. Khalil Saucier
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62895-228-5


Making Sense of Light-Skin African Blood: The Grammar of Cape Verdean Identity

If I'm not black, then what am I? ... Once you have a mix in you, you're black.

— Informant

One trip to the Republic of Cape Verde, one look at its people and their phenotypic and pigmentary variation, and one becomes acutely aware of the generations of extensive intercontinental admixture. In 2010, Jorge Rocha, professor of molecular pathology and immunology at the University of Porto (Portugal), presented evidence from his study entitled "Genetic Diversity in Cape Verde." Rocha argued that "the Cape Verdean population is one of the most mixed in the world," with nearly 60 percent of genes coming from Africa and 40 percent from Europe. He praised the islands for their biodiversity, which, at times, is more diverse than Brazil. Rocha's study, which evaluated the miscegenation levels of each island through an accounting of eye color, pigmentation (i.e., using a melanin index), and other genetic markers, was meticulous and scientifically thorough. The island of Santiago is the most African, according to Rocha (2010), with Fogo showing the highest levels of miscegenation. The point of the study was not only to illustrate the extraordinary biodiversity of the islands, but also an attempt to locate the genes that produce skin color and eye color. While I am not suggesting Rocha and others have malicious intentions, such studies do remind me of Fanon's satirical prose on scientists in laboratories in search of a "denigrification serum" for "Negroes to whiten themselves and thus throw off the burden of that 'corporeal malediction'" (Fanon 1967, 111). Ironically, living in "postracial" times has meant the proliferation of genetic testing and other forms of "racial scientific" exploration. What I think is interesting about this science, which really only confirms what we already know, is that it does little to sublate or reduce the materiality of the black Cape Verdean position. Knowing that Cape Verdeans are genetically mixed does not make mixed-race identity any more real or race as structural position any less so.

In The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruse of Memory, Tavia Nyong'o argues that "racial mixing and hybridity are neither problems for, nor solutions to, the long history of 'race' and racism, but parts of its genealogy" (2009, 174). Therefore this chapter offers a partial accounting of the history and grammar of Cape Verdean identity politics so as to provide the context from which Cape Verdean blackness is enunciated (Wilderson 2009). What becomes clear in looking into the history of Cape Verde and the making of its diaspora are the ways in which miscegenation and amalgamation are fashionably presented in the discourse concerning Cape Verdean subjectivities. That is, Cape Verdean subjectivities are presented with little indication of the ways race rules performatively or the "schemes" that they simultaneously underwrite (see Ehlers 2012; Sexton 2010). In other words, much of what has been said about Cape Verdean identity, both historically and sociologically, implicitly and at times explicitly revolves around ways of not being black; there are persistent attempts to explain away manifest blackness. Rhett Jones in his important, yet seldom utilized essay "Mulattos, Freejacks, Cape Verdeans, Black Seminoles, and Others: Afrocentricism and Mixed-Race Persons" argues with particular reference to Cape Verdeans:

So while the mixed-race people were not convinced they were not white or Indian, they were convinced they were not black. A perspective ... [that] enabled them to construct a worldview which did not see their Africanity. This was no small achievement. Not one of these communities was so backward that it did not have mirrors so that each day these people could see their despised African physical features reflected back at them. Yet they managed to together construct communities of denial in which, despite the mark of oppression, they were not black. (Jones 2003, 282)

Another problem with the discourse surrounding Cape Verdean identity is that many Cape Verdean youth do not experience the world as mixed race, but as an antagonistic element of society. This complicates the question, what does it mean to be mixed race? Or more specifically, for our purposes, what does it mean to be kriolu? In locating some of the problems within mixed race studies, and with this I include previous scholarship on Cape Verdean identity, we are able to explore efforts of racial transcendence alongside the entrenchment and the infinite rehearsal of antiblackness. While Cape Verdean identity has not been a constitutive object of study within mixed race studies, critical or otherwise, the conceptual analytics of mixed race studies, it would seem, better facilitate a more robust understanding of Cape Verdean subjectivity. This focus is motivated by my hesitation for all "mixed" race identities to be subsumed under certain fields of study that upon closer analysis are replete with categorical errors. As a result, after discussion of Cape Verdean migration, race and cultural identity, and mixed-race theory, I offer a brief note on the black/nonblack binary and a triangulated approach to better understanding Cape Verdean youth blackness.


As Colm Foy (1988) has described, there have been two ways to escape the drought-scourged reality of the Cape Verde Islands, death or emigration. In The Fortunate Islands (1990), Basil Davidson adds that on top of environmental forces, the Portuguese established a "system of ruin" in order to force the island residents to leave. Thus the history of Cape Verde has been shaped tremendously by emigration. Today, the motivation to leave Cape Verde is connected to the inhospitable landscape, which is made all the more difficult by poverty and high levels of unemployment (see Batalha and Carling 2008; Carling 2002; Fikes 2009; Lobban and Saucier 2007). The Cape Verdean diaspora is transnational in that there is a constant flow of people, culture, and capital to and from the islands; in many ways Cape Verdean nationalism is diasporic, rather than the reverse. Similar to many former colonies, Cape Verde also allows those in the diaspora to maintain dual citizenship. The diaspora, as a result, has developed long-term cultural connections with the archipelago. The transnationalism of Cape Verdeans has led to what some call the emergence of a bilateral diaspora ethnicity (Pires-Hester 1994).

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Cape Verdeans, mainly from Brava and Fogo, immigrated to the United States to seek work in the whaling industry and packet trade. This laid the foundation for a substantial immigration to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Roughly 1,500 Cape Verdean migrants arrived annually on packet ships between 1860 and 1920; during those years, 26,585 Cape Verdean immigrants arrived in New England (Coli and Lobban 1990, 5–7). They settled mainly in New Bedford, Massachusetts. With the decline of the whaling industry and packet trade, many went to work in agriculture — picking strawberries and cranberries — and in factories, settling in Massachusetts (New Bedford, Boston, Plymouth, Taunton, Brockton, Cape Cod), Rhode Island (Pawtucket, East Providence, Central Falls), Connecticut, New York, Florida, Hawaii, and California. Nearly one-third of all Cape Verdeans arriving in the New England area between 1900 and 1920 listed Plymouth County as their intended destination (Lobban and Saucier 2007, 68). The introduction of immigration quotas in the 1920s — the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 — derailed Cape Verdean immigration to the United States for nearly five decades. In the 1960s and early 1970s, with the demand for workers in Europe and strict immigration limitations in the United States, as outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, many Cape Verdeans chose to immigrate to Europe, particularly to Portugal and the Netherlands. However, even with independence in 1975, the flow of immigrants continued. Today, there exists a strong migratory flow to Portugal, Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Luxemburg, Sweden, and Germany. Others have immigrated to Angola, Senegal, and Argentina. Of all the destinations, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and the United States are most important.

The number of Cape Verdeans in the diaspora probably outnumbers the population of the republic. However, quantifying the Cape Verdean diaspora is difficult. The reliability and validity of the data is also questionable. The Cape Verdean government, for instance, tracks people entering and exiting the country from all ports and airports, but the type of journey one is embarking on is never specified. As Jorgen Carling (2002) has pointed out, quantifying diasporic populations is tricky because of overlapping categories of citizenship, nativity, ethnicity, and issues of mobility. Problems with quantifying the Cape Verdean diaspora population include the number of undocumented Cape Verdeans, those who emigrated when Cape Verdeans held Portuguese passports, those of mixed "ancestry," and the increasing number of third- and fourth-generation Cape Verdeans. The latter are common especially in the Greater Boston area. Nonetheless, the best estimate puts the Cape Verdean diaspora around 700,000 people (IOM 2010).

One of the oldest and largest Cape Verdean diasporic populations lives in the United States, particularly in the Greater Boston area. Many of its members come from the islands of Fogo and Brava, followed by Sal and Sao Vincente. In 2000, the U.S. Census reported less than 80,000 Cape Verdeans in the United States. Others have estimated that the number is closer to 300,000 or more. The Greater Boston area alone is estimated to have 255,000 Cape Verdeans (Instituto das Comunidades 2007).


Due to its important position within the transatlantic slave trade, Cape Verde served as a meeting place for various peoples. As a result, a kriolu or mestiço population emerged in the islands. In a very basic sense, Cape Verdean people are decedents of Portuguese and African people. During the initial phase of colonization and subjection there existed only two racial groups in Cape Verde: brancos, "whites," and prêtos, "blacks." The brancos consisted of upper-class noblemen and merchants, while prêtos were more often than not slaves. During the early days of Portuguese colonization, prêtos were the overwhelming majority of the bipolar system. However this system, according to anthropologist Richard Lobban, vanished within a few short years for "it was common practice for slave masters to have sexual relations with their slaves, especially when so many Portuguese masters did not bring their wives into their new colonial possession" (1995, 54). In this sense, Cape Verde served as ground zero for the Portuguese colonial application of Lusotropicalism, which according to Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre (1953) was an inherent proclivity on the part of the Portuguese for miscegenation. Cape Verdean colonial history often mirrors that of Brazil insofar as it is thought that racial prejudice was minimal and slavery was not as savage and brutal, which resulted in a "benevolent amalgamation" (Vargas 2012, 5). As a result, Portuguese colonialism is often valorized over other forms. However, as Denise Ferreira Da Silva argues in her discussion on Brazilian racial politics, a discussion that can be applied to Cape Verde, "The national discourse celebrates rape, as it postulates that the black female body was fundamental in the production of the national (racial) type; the female, the mulata, has become an object of national celebration, signifying both the colonizer's [sic] previous sexual deeds and the necessary availability of the black female body" (1998, 227). Put slightly differently, many scholars, implicitly or explicitly, sanction rape, a relation of force, as a pillar of state and cultural formation.

The application of Lusotropicalism resulted in a large kriolu population as well as a complex system of racial classification; a classification that would utilize skin color and other phenotypic markers like hair and nose type, a system of classification vaguely similar to the scientific study mentioned earlier. Miscegenation, in turn, becomes the substance of the Cape Verdean spirit. By 1550 and throughout the following centuries the racial composition of the islands was overwhelmingly mestiço(Lobban 1995). Today, the official racial composition of the country is unknown, for the "race" category was dropped from the census following independence in 1975.

Although official "race" categories ceased to exist in contemporary Cape Verde, kriolu folk culture has distinct and overlapping racial categories, which structures the racial hierarchy. The sampadjudo from Sao Vincente, for instance, are considered mulato, but weak and feeble as a result of having African blood. Conversely, mulato elites look negatively on the badiu (meaning vagabond) not only for having African blood but also for being the bearers of African culture. The badiu tend to be phenotypically darker than most Cape Verdeans and are the core of the peasant population of the island of Santiago. The badiu with their darker skin are often viewed as the primary representatives of Africanity on the islands and, as such, have historically been denigrated by the colonial authorities and looked down upon by other Cape Verdeans including the sampadjudo. As Batalha as observed, "Being lighter and sampadjudo is also associated with being closer to the ideal of Portugueseness ... as opposed to badiu Creole, which is seen as nearer to its African roots" (2004, 11). In his attempt to strengthen Cape Verdean identity and establish the principles of unification between Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, Amílcar Cabral spoke of the "re-Africanization of the spirit," which resulted, at times, in the badiu becoming a symbolic force in the fight against Portuguese colonialism and much later against neoliberalism (see Duarte 1984; Cabral 1973; Pardue 2013).

In Cape Verde the system of racial classification was and is confounded by wealth, power, island origin, and class position, which often "lightened" one's appearance, while poverty, so-called crude behavior, and illiteracy "blackened" it. An individual's race was associated not only with phenotype and corporeality, but also with one's social class and cultural capital. In this regard, this phenomenon is similar to that of Brazil. In the early twentieth century Cape Verdean racial classification and identity again was confounded by colonial decree. Complicating Cape Verdean racial classification further was the legal status assimilado. The status of assimilado was assigned to indigenous Africans in the Portuguese African colonies whose cultural standards of literacy, education, and class position would entitle them to a path to Portuguese citizenship, while the overwhelming majority of black Africans were relegated to the lowest paying jobs and inferior schools, and subjected to extralegal taxes, restricted movement, and more severe and arbitrary punishment within the criminal justice system (see Fikes 2009). In other words, the status of assimilado was constituted by race and culture and lent itself to justify, in law and within civil society, oppressive and violent colonial practices and policies. Further, many Cape Verdean assimilados complicated their position by serving as strategic intermediaries in the colonial system as local administrators and functionaries in all parts of the Luso-African world, in places like Mozambique and Angola (Lobban and Saucier 2007). Although I do not dispute the overall complexity and nuance of Cape Verdean racial history, I do not agree with Lobban when he argues that, "although Cape Verde's colonial experience was unequivocally marked by racism, social inequality, and racial stratification, any effort to impose an American, South African, or European model of racial hierarchy onto Cape Verdean society will fail" (1995, 51). While the categories used over time and space have changed, even officially vanished within the islands, blackness, which is also to say Africanity, is considered pathogenic and phobogenic (Meintel 1981), "the negative residuum of the interracial encounter" (Sexton 2008, 150). Blackness has remained foundational to Cape Verdean racial politics as it has elsewhere.


Excerpted from Necessarily Black by P. Khalil Saucier. Copyright © 2015 P. Khalil Saucier. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Making Sense of Light-Skin African Blood: The Grammar of Cape Verdean Identity,
Chapter 2. Body and Being: Notes on Cape Verdean Blackness in America,
Chapter 3. Kriolu Noize: Bridges of Black Cape Verdean Sound,
Chapter 4. Cape Verdean Youth Cool: Tailoring Identity,
Chapter 5. The Cape Verdean Identity Divide: A Case of Terminal Blackness,
Conclusion. Dark Matters: A Potential (Ante)Politics,

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