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  IDENTITY

The Colorline Divide: Whose Identity is it Anyway?
by Preston L. Shumaker, MSW
2004-06-01

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'I'm supposed to be a loser. I'm supposed to be on the six o'clock news shooting people's heads off. I'm supposed to be the one that grabs for your purse when I walk by. I'm the person that doesn't vote. I'm the person that is supposed to drink. I'm the person that is supposed to smoke weed. I'm the mother- - - - - - that is supposed to fill your jails.

I'm the person that you make examples to your kids of what not to be like.' — Youth authors Jones & Leland from Our America

The late Essex Hemphill rendered in the poem Cordon Negro '... each morning I open my eyes is a miracle ... I'm the only one who values my life and sometimes I don't give a damn.' Well, I am still tired and this morning, as I glanced into a mirror and I noticed that I was still Black. I am feeling fatigued from sailing America's treacherous, deep, painful waters infested with dominant culture sharks. I am tired of being depicted as a negative symptom, stereotype, as a beast with no feelings.

WEB DuBois shared that the color-line was the greatest problem facing the past century and in the 21st century, the divide is still an active phenomenon. Like in centuries past, current racial/ethnic differences based upon color were used as a means to gain control over others whose skin shade was different. Stereotypical beliefs promote distorted images of people of color based upon this ideology. My racial identity and male gender coupled with my underclass familial history shapes my life experiences on a daily basis.

I experienced the color divide early in my life as I recalled hearing the phrases, Black Friday, Black as the night and dirty Black Niggers. At the age of five, the word 'Black' was equated with negative connotations such as 'weak' and 'defeated' in many childhood games. The children in my neighborhood on Chicago's West Side often played tag, 'Red Light Green Light' and other games, and sang jingles that we learned without a second thought:

'Eeny-meeny-miney-mo, Catch a nigga by his toe! If he hollers let him go! Eeny-meeny-miney-mo!'

Like a sponge, I internalized the sentiment within my environment. As a young child, Blacks as well as whites frequently reminded me that African Americans were simply, 'something else' and certainly not human. At a very early age, I equated Black with being weak and ugly. There had been continuous reinforcement to condition my viewing natural African features as unappealing and therefore substandard. It became a belief that seeped into my dark-skinned pores and unconsciously simmered slowing producing a poor self-concept.

I was taught well that stereotypic images and words could cut deep like a knife as others laughed frequently at your expense. How could someone cope with such an overwhelming negative self-concept and pain? It was simple: you steal another's self esteem. I gained a dependent and crippled sense of self by projecting my anger onto others as a means of unconscious self-protection. As such, I verbally annihilated and shamed others by playing the dozens before they could do so to me.

In the early 1970s, like many American children, I parked in front of my black & white television set on Sunday evenings with my brother and sister and watched Family Classics on Chicago's WGN. I was introduced to: 1 ) Charlie Chan, an odd Chinese fellow who spoke in a broken dialect along with a stephinfetchit type pitch Black chauffeur with big bulging eyes; 2 ) the Cisco Kid and Pancho, two hapless Latino males with big sombreros who also spoke funny and often behaved like keystone cops; and 3 ) the Lone Ranger, a white ranger who spoke articulately fighting crime in the west. His sidekick was Tonto, an Indian male with warpaint on his face who spoke only a few English phases.

I simply accepted the images as fact. Dominant culture has set the image standard without apology. What occurs when minorities fail to 'measure up?' They suffer mental anguish as they try to 'correct' the error. In short, dominant culture can reconstruct by changing ethnic/racial 'ugliness' to the norm. Until diversity can be truly honored and recognized as strength and not weakness, America will remain divided by the colorline standard. As I look into the mirror at my natural dark African hues and features, no longer am I willing to alter, bleach, break, color, cut, enhance, extend, reconstruct, shrink, tuck, or weave anything else on my body for there is no correction needed any longer. There is no anger projection onto others as I have discovered that an affirmative identity beaming back at me. As such, I am 'phyne' as is. Learn to love and embrace the total genuine self. After all, whose identity is it anyway?


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