Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Race Card?

One of our listserve members honed in on a line in one of my e-mails where I referred to Barack as partially Black. She took offense because she assumed I was referring to the "is he Black enough" non-sense that has been going on within our communities.

I wanted to say this in open forum in case one of our other members either took my comment out of context or was otherwise riled by it. To clarify, I wasn't questioning his dedication or giving weight to the above example of divisive non-sense that we tend to place in our own communities.

I do however, teach a number of life enhancement classes to teens so they can learn the things about themselves that isn't taught in a text book. With one of my classes we are currently dealing with the idea of identity. I've had a number of bi-racial children in my classes and whenever this subject comes up they leap to talk about it. It surprised me how many of their emotional issues came from having to be marginalized. Most of them claimed "black"...when I asked why I got a variety of answers....all of them pointing to at some point in their lives they were forced to choose in order to be accepted. Either they had to be black or white -- never both. I find that odd.

It is now habit for me to openly acknowledge both sides of a person as a lesson to help these kids to love and testify on all of who they are. Children (like adults) often want to fit in. They will claim whatever "group" accepts them without too much explanation. But why do we, in 2008, still make them claim one or the other when they are both? But I can’t teach them that if I know of a bi-racial person and I too only acknowledge one side of their cultural background. So when referring to a person (who I know is multi-racial) I will say a bi-racial person. So that’s what I meant with Barack. We were talking about the “race factor” more so one listserve member's claim that African Americans are only voting for Barack because he's Black. To which I responded "my vote is not based on the fact that he is partially black - if all it took was pigment to earn African American's votes than Jesse Jackson would have been a nominee a long time ago". It wasn't intended to challenge his race but I find it interesting that the subject of multi-ethnic folks is still a sensitive one.

Self-acceptance is hard for any teen – especially those who are placed in the position to deny their cultural experience. Some of them are on Myspace in groups called “white women having black babies”….HUH??? WTF?? I've realized it’s a pathetic plea to belong to something that helps you to define yourself (which is why she ended up pregnant at 12 in the first dayum place but I digress). A white woman can't give birth to a black woman. She can give birth to a bi-racial woman. But in 2008 we are still scared to say that???

Beyond that, a white woman can't raise a black woman. How would you know what being a black woman is about?? From tv? From your friends? Or do you think that being black is just defined by her color (or more so her father’s color)? Trust..if having one black parent was all it took to be black than this whole country better claim the status cuz all of us have been mixed with someone or other somewhere in the lineage. Raise your children in their true culture…bi-racial. Let him/her enjoy herself – ALL of himself/herself. You can’t tell me there’s nothing wrong with being “mixed” (my student's word) while saying in the same breath – but only claim one side! You only hide things that you are ashamed of. You can't effectively preach self-pride while sub-consciously feeding them shame.

I'm teaching them that identity (particularly being black) is more than a color - it is a cultural experience. One that some bi-racial children who claim Black have never had – one of my children was raised by her white father, in white schools, never had so much as an African American friend, doesn’t know one thing about our history – how can you exclusively claim black culture when your experience has only been that of another? Meanwhile, my sista-friend who is bi-racial but was raised by two wonderful black parents (thank God for them) to be a bi-racial black woman-- ok, that I applaud! She made a conscious decision as an adult based on her life experience not on who society told her she had to be. She recognizes both sides of her racial make-up. Why not??? While still giving respect to the weight of her experiences.

But in 2008 we still are trying to minimize being black as just a color or just a bloodline. It is those things but SO MUCH MORE. Heck, there are Arabs that are darker than me -- they don't consider themselves black. Africans often refer to themselves as Africans or their particular culture....not black. It's home, a history of oppression and overcome, it is a specific struggle and a specific strength. It is a black mama who can beat you just as hard as your daddy for not making it home b4 the porch light comes on. It's so many things that words can never cover it all....Don't reduce it to ONLY color.

I teach them not to site slavery rules (a drop of black blood nonsense) that you aren't subject to and were meant to oppress not uplift. That's tantamount to the "reclaiming nigga" craze. bout we don't and just say we did! LOL. I've even heard a child tell me "my mom says if your dad is black than so are you"...huh?? Actually in the days of slavery and mulatto...LOL... the race was based on the mother's status...after all, she’s the one that gave birth! If the mother was a slave so was the child. It wasn't based on the father. Think about it - than all those "masters" would have had to claim their products of rape as white...slim chance of that!

Lastly I teach them that no matter what your cultural background -- no words will sum up who you are. There is no word(s) that can reach the totality of blackness, whiteness or any other label you give yourself. Which is why it's important that for the basics (race) you use all the vocabulary afforded to you. Trust, no matter which you choose you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out all of what that means to you. Don't force yourself or let anyone else force you into denying parts of who you are. Identity is a full bodied experience that has too many avenues for potential. Let's start off with a proper road map. You are bi-racial. To only acknowledge half of your journey leaves you with no choice but to never reach your full destination.

I say identity at it's core is accepting and loving ALL of who you are despite what society has put you through. If you have a white mother...who raised you, loved you, cherished you – raised you to be a contributing factor to society (like Senator Obama, Alicia Keys, Halle Berry and countless others) it is reckless not to acknowledge that part of you when identifying yourself. Out of respect for self, not divisiveness. That mother with her experience (even her cultural/racial experience) raised you – embrace that. You have that right. Just like I have the right (and responsibility) to respect, honor and claim both of my parents and their contributions to who I am.

Now I did have one kid pose a question -- if it's experience than why can't a white person who hangs out in black clubs and listens to rap claim black?? Good question. Remember I said it isn't just bloodlines and color. Those two things are a factor. Not only that but

  • because they don't have our cultural history or future. Identity is something you are born isn't something you get to switch at leisure
  • How racist is it to think that you can experience blackness from just music or clubs -- through sex with a black person or having black friends?? Being black is so much more than that - music, hair, skin color -- doesn't even scratch the surface

I find it horrible that in 2008 folks still feel pressured (especially kids) to be forced to choose between one culture or the other. To publicly dismiss part of who they are. None of us decide the circumstances of our birth. What is wrong with being born of both cultures and acknowledging that? Especially with all of the identity and self-acceptance issues these kids have stemming from race. They will have a whole other host of issues to doubt themselves over – I say get over the hump of the obvious and embrace it.

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