Turning a “they” into an “Us”

Although my blog is about being a global citizen, traveling and learning foreign languages, the issue of race comes up from time to time. actually, it informs all my interactions. who am I kidding I always think in terms of ethnicity and culture, don’t we all to an extent? Even if we unknowingly or subconsciously do so.  It makes a big difference to me. If I have a  strange interaction with someone or am in a situation where things become awkward or hostile. I often wonder if my ethnicity had anything to do with it. our identity is informed by the groups we belong to, where we grew up our socioeconomic status, values, beliefs. There will always be differences in perceptions, customs, behaviors, and beliefs. Personality is shaped by culture which also is comprised of the aforementioned elements. This all leads me to believe…We are they. Let me explain further.

Race informs the words we use, the friends we have or make and who we grow up to be. It determines our treatment in society and the type of microaggressions we are subjected to or lack thereof. there are times that I am reminded of the saying that many black parents have often told their children. “You have to work twice a hard as them to have half of what they have”, although this is never something my parents told me it was implied. Meaning it may have been okay for my white peers to act up in a department store or talk back to a teacher, but for me, the same acts would be subject to harsher judgment. Black children who smart off to teachers are sent to the principal’s office while often white children are sent to therapy or the counselor’s office.

A few years back I was dealing with an issue.  At the time it left me grappling with insecurities. As a black woman, am I less intelligent than my white and Asian counterparts? Perhaps it was all in my head due to the black feminist literature I was reading or the political theories that have to do with critical race theory, the contact hypothesis and stereotype threat. Or perhaps it was a lack of black representation in my graduate program that I was in at the time facing these issues. 

These thoughts bring me to some of the historical underpinnings that inform perception and implicit bias.  The core message of groups like the black panthers and black lives matter is not to vilify white people, it is to bring attention to the fact that black voices are important too. The Black Panthers were a group that sought to bring pride to the black community so that the youth would feel good about themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as the rest of the world sees them, thugs and criminals, not of any value to society. The black panthers simply advocated self-defense as a rational response to lynching mobs like the KKK. In the media and in America there are multiple representations of white people, most of them good. When people think of white Americans their minds don’t instantly go to the KKK, people know that is one fringe aspect of white society. Black unity groups in whatever forms exist to open a critical dialogue on race in America so that there are multiple views on perceptions of blacks. In terms of playing a “race card” it’s all about having pride in oneself, if we all pretend to be colorblind and never talk about heritage then we are ignoring a large part of who we are. I would never accuse my white friends of playing a card when they talk about their pride in Polish or Irish heritage, as it is a part of who they are.

I am indignant every time violence and hate are touted over messages of peace, whether violence is at the hands of extremist who happen to be Muslim or angry black people who happen to belong to BLM or an angry white person who associates with the Alt-Right. But my point is, not all Muslims are terrorist not all blacks hate whites and our society is in danger of being myopic when seeing minorities and associating them with the negative aspects of a fringe group.

Perhaps I haven’t been working hard enough but I recently read a blog about the very same issue. Check out the article here on the perception of black women. In it, one particular statement stands out.

“There are people in this world who will . . . underestimate you. They’ll say little things. They’ll doubt that you’re smart, they’ll doubt that you’re kind, some will even treat you like less than a human being deserves.”

I’ve had people talk down to me, over explain things to me, with the instant assumption that I don’t know basic information about any particular subject as if I am less educated or less cultured. And there is more condescension when I prove that I know something. I often get the pejorative, “good for you”. As if to say, who cares what you know, you’re still black.

Cultural blindness is seeing the difference and acting like you don’t. This mindset describes the belief that cultural differences do not matter or are marked by an inability to recognize differences among and between cultures, here we don’t discriminate by avoiding any differences and never having a discussion on the differences between individuals. However, the goal should not be to acknowledge that a difference and take no moves to self educate but it should be to pay attention to the dynamics of cultural differences and the spread knowledge and awareness of cultures and cultural dynamics.

A friend of mine posted a quote to speak out even if your voice shakes, but will my voice be discounted because it is too radical? Author Patricia Williams is known for her views on critical race theory and black feminist thought. She says in an article in the New Yorker, “I wondered about the isolation I felt then and the invisibility I sometimes feel now”. Remarking on how lonely it can feel to speak up.  Author and Professor Patricia Collins has stated realities plainly, “as a historically identifiable population U.S. Black women are simultaneously privileged and penalized”

I personally have endured slights and feelings of repression by a white male-dominated culture. Black feminist thought is distinguished as not only concerned with oppression, but equally concerned with resistance, activism, and politics of empowerment. But arent freedom and empowerment what we all want?

There is no “they” and in a world of diversity and inclusion, a “we” is something everyone has to actively work at creating. But you create these things by interacting and growing. Striving to create something from nothing.  One can have several units of your identity that come together and shape your culture. But creating a “we” society by actively seeking what comes from embracing and maintaining the empathy gained from interacting with a wide array of cultural background differences. The differences that shape who we are unite us socially. We carry all of these things and aspects with us and awareness creates the true change.  That is how you turn a “They” into an “Us”, when we are the they.

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