Saturday, March 20, 2010
The Race Card: Playing the Hand I Was Dealt
Whenever I tell people I'm studying African & Black Diaspora Studies; the first response I always get is: 'That's interesting! What made you choose that?' It's interesting for me to hear that response because it suggests a peculiarity on my part; like 'white people' shouldn't be interested in African, African American, or Black Studies. However, I recognize the sad reality is: they aren't. So basically, I have 'white people' accusing me of being a sell-out; Black people accusing me of being paternalistic and trying to 'steal their culture'; and both of them accusing me of trying to 'act/be Black', as if there is one standardized way of performing Blackness. So let's clear some things up:
1) To be a sell out, there would have to be an 'authentic' white identity which...there isn't. The same is true for Black identity, there is no original marks of authenticity. You don't want to hear that? I'm sorry.
2) To accuse me of paternalism, you would have to be engaged with my intentions. If you and I have not had several (hundred) conversations about what goes on in my head, chances are you are hardly qualified to speak on my behalf.
3) To accuse me of 'acting/being Black,' please refer to point 1.
My path to Diasporic Studies only made sense for my life journey. As a child, I can remember the sense of purity I had. By purity I mean, I was not strictly controlled on how to think by my family (yet). I remember watching "Saved By the Bell" and thinking, 'God, Lisa Turtle is gorgeous!' In third grade, I came home from school during Black History Month to my family talking about, "Why Black people got a whole month? There wasn't an Italian History Month!" My response was: "It's African-American to you!" It wasn't until later in life I would begin to challenge my family on why there isn't an "Italian History Month" (it's called opening up any history book and only seeing Eurocentric ideologies) and why I'm so 'militant' when it comes to race. My point in saying this is not to give some half-assed attempt to rid myself of any claim to racism; it's to say that I can remember those moments of childhood purity before I was taught and embraced the power of hegemony, ethnocentrism, bigotry, and racism. I honestly believe my capacity to recognize those moments before hatred was learned is what has allowed me to begin freeing myself from those powers.
My family taught me a lot of things, some of which did not serve me great purpose in life. But one thing is certain, my path to college was not imposed onto me. Albeit, I did grow up in an environment that allowed me the capacity to feel love and support. When I was in fifth grade, I was talking about going to Stanford (haha, I've got a long way to go) but college was not something I was taught to value. Luckily, I had a few influential members of my family tell me: "No! You are going to college! You have to!" So sure enough, high school ended and I had applied to Loyola University Chicago. School started late August and by mid-October I had withdrawn. There were a number of factors that led to this, but mainly: I wasn't dedicated. After debating whether or not college was for me, I decided to enroll in DePaul the following year. I was originally Business Management and it wasn't until my sophomore year I decided I wanted to study Philosophy. Had it not been for Heather Rakes (a grad student at DePaul who taught my sophomore seminar course on multiculturalism), I don't know where I would be today. That class taught me I had powerful analytic skills and a passion for social justice and anarchy. Philosophy might fit perfectly.
Now, during high school and the beginning of college there were a number of 'racialized' incidents that occurred. First, I began hanging out with someone who would later become a very close friend. We would talk about our family life and what it was like growing up, and I realized we had a lot in common with regards to what the family structure looked like for each of us. How was I taught to believe there were these inherent differences between white and Black people when it seemed like we had so much in common (at least in my personal experience)? It wasn't until later in life I began to uncover the sticky history Italians have with Black folks.
Another incident comes to mind: One day, I was walking down the street with someone I had been seeing and a person walked by who I thought was attractive. Anyone who knows me knows I tend to act a fool when I think someone is cute. ;) When the person I was seeing saw my reaction to the stranger's beauty, his reaction was: 'Ew, that's disgusting. You like Black men?' This began the beginning stages of white guilt and a long history I continue to experience with being stigmatized as someone who only dates Black men.
All of these experiences led me on a quest to the truth of race, which coincidentally went perfect with my studies in Philosophy. So I began taking African and Black Diaspora Studies (ABD) courses, like African American history, Brown vs. the Board of Education, etc. It didn't come as much of a surprise by my junior year that I had enough credits to potentially minor in ABD. So I took the required core classes, and by the beginning of this year (my senior year) I realized I have enough credits to double major in African and Black Diaspora Studies and Philosophy. Not only that, I realized my passion for Critical Race Theory (without even knowing what I believed was in fact, CRT). Now I'm considering PhD programs in Whiteness Studies, Black Popular Culture, White Privilege, etc.
Now, that was a lot, but if you take nothing away...take this: The history of this country and the world does not belong to one race. The history of this country is a communal story that belongs to all parties involved. Yes, we may have specific experiences and different cultural traditions but we also have similar ones too. Just because we have been socialized in an environment that tells us, "this is Black" while everything else becomes "white" does not make it accurate. There are a whole bunch of people that exist in between that binary and there are a whole bunch of experiences that overlap regardless of race. African history is global history. African American history is American history.
Hatred is a set of learned behaviors; in the same way it is learned, it can be unlearned.
--Thank you to Patrick Johnathan Hale for inspiring this blog.