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AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum

Re: Who were Free People of Color?

Hi Kathy,

Designations across the States were not uniform - and also changed over time. Just as terms used to deliniate "race" (an artificial, arbitrary socially contructed classification system) have changed over time as well.

Early slaves brought from Africa - were sometimes just referred to as Africans, or listed by ethnic group - Hausa, Fulani, Ashanti, etc. The use of other ways of defining and describing people, as I mentioned earlier, such as "people of color" grew out of both the Spanish and French colonial systems - since they also had a category for creoles, or criollos (those not born in the home country) they wanted to distinguish between those creoles of European families, and those creoles with African ancestry - hence the term "gens de colour" or people of color.

There were free people of color with no European admixture at all, and there were others, who got categorized that way who probably had very little African ancestry.

To create further confusion - when slavery was abolished in certain areas, yet continued in others - a system was necessary to clarify who was slave and who was free. The term Free Blacks, or Free Negroes was also used. Some free blacks objected to being called Black, preferring "Colored", and others adhered to the Spanish/French terms to classify admixture.

I know I'm not explaining this very well - if it sounds confusing - it's because it was and is.

I think for the purposes of this board however, it is simply a tool to indicate research being done on families who were not slaves, either because they had been emancipated, or they never were, but had some African ancestry.

Those persons who had some admixture with other ethnic groups - African-Chinese, African-Native-American, African-Carib/Taino (called Hispanic)
often cause the system to break down.

Depending on the time period (again) they get lumped into different categories. There are whole groups of people who have African ancestry, who were not listed as FPOC - who were raised or born into NA nations, or born in Puerto Rico or Cuba - and others with the same heritage, who were counted as FPOC or Black.

Explaining a system that at it's core is senseless is difficult. The only way to look at it without going crazy - is to keep it in it's historical context and always be aware of the shifts in social categories.

The Irish were once classified as a different race, from other Europeans :)

Australian Aborigines were classified as Caucasians, Native Americans were mistakenly called Indians - the list of silliness goes on and on - and all part of the effort to maintain standards of "racial" typing and social distinctions of superiority/inferiority.

We are stuck with all of it - I've lived through being Colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American, and now African-American or being "a Person of Color". My husband - who has as much African ancestry as I do, or more (grin) is not listed as any of this - because he is a Velez (from Puerto Rico) he's "white" or "Hispanic". More tools to divide and separate oppressed people.

All of it - IMHO is a bunch of crap - I'm a Homo sapiens-sapiens which isn't a label to be particularly proud of - given our history of slaughter, genocide and extermination of other species.

I don't know whether this answers your question - or just complicates it more - but I tried :)

Happy New Year,

Denise

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Who were Free People of Color?
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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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