Words By S.

Monday, 7 June 2010

In Which S. Joins the “Race Debate”

Filed under: Life,Politics,Popular Culture,Race Relations — S @ 12:00 am

I have a tendency to push buttons, to not shy away from controversial topics, to speak my mind without worrying (nor caring) about the opinions of others.  I’ve blogged about everything from my Atheism, to tattoos and piercings, to immigration.  One topic that I’ve never blogged about has been race.

Race is something I’ve never been terribly comfortable discussing.  As a multi-ethnicitied Woman Of Color (WOC), it should be the exact opposite for me.  I’ve spent a lot of my life (and continually do so) trying to “discover” myself and find my niche within my own race.

I am a Black Woman (BW).  I look at my brown face in the mirror every day; look at my brown arms and legs.  When I enter into public, I am seen as a Black Woman.  I’ve never been mistaken or passed as anything other than a Dark Skinned Black Woman.  It’s who I am.  Or rather, one facet of Who I Am.

I never thought much about the Black Experience, nor my own personal experience in being Black.  I’m “hip” to the lingo, a little with the experiences of others, and how the Blackness of others has affected me (which I will get into soon), but I’ve never sat and actually analyzed it.  At least, not in the way I’ve sat and thought about humanity and religion.

I grew up in a bubble.  A very suburban, celebrate diversity, 30% Jewish middle-class bubble.  My Experience, from the start, was much different from that of a large number of other Black Americans (BAs).  I always had a largely diverse group of friends, had eclectic tastes in everything, and had a privileged childhood.  I will be the first to admit that I led a charmed life.

In my family, there was a mixed dynamic.  On the one hand, I had my parents, my aunt, and my grandfather (mother’s side) who never really put any sort of emphasis on what it means to be Black in America.  Sure, we had discussions about what it was like when they were young, and how lucky I am to never have to experience outright, in-your-face racism.  I was given the basic equipment for how to handle the inevitable covert and institutional racism.  But, beyond that, nothing.  And then there was my extended family.

I was constantly “othered” when it came to my large group of cousins.  I was the “outsider”.  The one who lived middle-class, who was interested in learning, who got good grades and read all the time.  Later, who watched and listened to a wide array of movies and music.  Who enunciated my words.  To my cousins, I wasn’t Black enough.

The lessons that I was taught by my immediate family never equipped me for how I would inevitably be viewed within my own culture.  For a time, I secretly rejected my Black heritage and embraced what I had learned about my Blackfoot Great-grandmother, and later my partially Irish Grandmother, and German Great-grandfather.  I did it quietly and in such a way that no one was the wiser.  When I took standardized tests, I wasn’t S. the Black American, I was S. the “Native American” or S. the “Other-with-each-ethnicity-listed-careful-to-specify-my-Blackfootness”.

And then I entered high school.

In my high school, we had a student group (or club, if you will) specifically for the purpose of learning about and teaching younger kids about race relations and diversity.  In joining that group, I learned that it was okay that I enunciated and enjoyed learning and reading, and watching foreign films, and listening to different types of music.  I learned to celebrate the fact that I grew up differently and had different interests, and that I don’t need to have a homogenized BA experience.

In fact, it was in high school that my friends started to change and we embraced those changes and learned even more about one another.  It was also in high school that I would befriend a BW who had even more “bizarre” interests than I did (namely, NASCAR).  We would drag each other to see shows of our favorite bands and we would play “Count the Black People”.  That game also served as a real eye-opener, to know that there was a whole world of POCs that had interests like mine, and were probably “othered” at some time.

By the end of my high school career, I felt confident in who I was and well-equipped to deal with anything that could possibly be thrown my way.  Or so I thought.

If my immediate family taught me about what to do in instances of covert racism, my extended family taught me that I will always be “othered” by people within my own race.  The summer going into my freshman year of college gave me that firsthand experience.

At my college, we were assigned first year roommates based on “like” factors.  Judging by who I was paired with, my only guess would be that our “on paper” similarity ended with us both being black.  The first conversation I had with my college roommate was via telephone where we were both thrilled to get to know each other.  My excitement soon ended, however, when I got asked (almost immediately), “Are you sure you’re black?”

It was like my newly found confident world had come crashing down, and I was back to being “Not-Black-Enough-S., the Other-with-each-ethnicity-listed-careful-to-specify-my-Blackfootness”.   The first two months of college were absolutely miserable for me, until I the day I got to change my roommate and moved out.

It was also during this time that I moved, on my own, to a brand new city that didn’t have the protective bubble that my suburban home did.  It was then that I, not only got to experience being Othered by non-family members, but that I got to experience that covert racism that my beloved family told me all about.  That first year of being on my own was hellish, to say the least.

What is the point in giving all of this background?  What does my personal history of Living While Black have to do with anything?

In a word, Everything.

You see, my experiences have all occurred during this “post-racial America” that we’ve been experiencing.  My experiences tie into the experiences of so many others who are now being targeted overtly.  Each person who is affected by a racist bill, or a racist decision made by local politicians has been told by some deluded person that this is a “post-racial America”.

In addition to those isolated occurrences are the ones on a larger scale.  The studies that have been done, time after time; the racist e-mails that have been put under public scrutiny; the racist comments from the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and the Tea Party.  The fact that there are television shows and bands that glorify racist stereotypes.  The fact that the Tea Party even exists.

All of these are occurring during a so-called “post-racial” period in American history.

If we lived in a truly post-racial society, there wouldn’t be a need for blog after blog after blog to exist just to point out that racism is very much still occurring.  So, how do we combat a very serious problem?  Is making people aware merely enough?

And if it’s not enough, how does one go about making people take action on a wide scale?  Do we need more programs like the one I was lucky enough to take part in when I was in high school?

Or, is it merely too hopeless of a cause?

Think about it…


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