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Black History Month Comes to a Close

Francesco Howard

Francesco Howard is a Litigation Technology Support Specialist in the Milwaukee office

As Black History month comes to a close, I reflect upon how we choose to "identify." I was born in Kansas City, Kansas. Aside from a short stint in Southern California, the first 25 years of my life were spent in rural Appalachian Ohio. We had "bring your tractor to school day" and I was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). After graduating from University, I spent nearly eight years as a Senior Trial Paralegal - Antitrust | Litigation in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA. My life completely changed. At a moment's notice I would be in San Francisco for a three week trial, or in another part of the country at a government facility leading a document collection for three months. During my down time I would travel internationally. Much as I loved my small town upbringing and its imparted values, traveling the world provided me with a deep appreciation for other cultures and experiences.

No matter where I am or have been, however, people have always wanted to know my ethnic background. Who am I? Where are my parents from? How do I Identify? As a child it was really overwhelming being asked questions like this, often in the face of hostility. Once I left home and was living in Washington, D.C. at first it felt like people were staring at me. What I learned is that people were curious to know if I was part of their ethnic group. Farther abroad, being treated like a National in places like Israel, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, and Dubai furthered my desire to learn more. How I am able to define myself still continues to morph and grow. For example, I took a DNA test along with my parents that revealed I really had global roots, and just last month I learned my Jewish ancestry traces back to Russia.

I am 62% European, 23% Sub-Saharan African, 9% Mexican/Native American, 4% Ashkenazi Jew, and 2% Unassigned; my mother is 90% European and 10% Ashkenazi Jewish; and my father is 44% Sub-Saharan African, 28% European, 25% Mexican/Native American, and 3% Unassigned.

"Race" changes its definition according to time, place and need. Thus, I have learned that the social construct of race doesn't work to define me, and I have found freedom through emancipating myself from that concept. Instead, I identify ethnically as "African-American" and its connection to land, history, and culture. The term African or African-American speaks to my axiology, epistemology and logic system regardless of where I am in the world.