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  BLACKLINES

What's The 411 with Preston S.
Smart Advice with an attitude!
by Preston S., MSW
2003-07-01

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Black Man invisible

In the land of indivisible

Respect and honey for many

But why ain't we gainin' any?

America's 4-Century ban

Still in effect on the African Man

Bewildered in the land of plenty

Alienated 4 not lookin' like the Many. . .

Wallop no more!

'I am tired. I have been Black all day!' When one of my best friends shared this quote with me, I smiled and simply nodded my head. I understood. Thirtysix-year-old Kendrick is the sole African-American gay male professional at his company in New York. He is an articulate, sharp, and intelligent man on the meteoric rise to success. On a daily basis, Kendrick must deal with all the drama that comes with being a Black gay man in America.

The common perception that African Americans are monolithic in thought and deed often is assumed within his business practice. Kendrick combats many ignorant and ridiculous stereotypes more times than he can count. He conducts himself in a respectable fashion, refusing to let others break his stride. During these times, Kendrick simply remembers a quote from sister Oprah, who said so eloquently: 'I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that's how I operate my life.'

However, dominant culture still provides repeated messages regarding what it means to be a 'normal' person. What if a person of color's perspective is different than the dominant culture? White Americans can inflict their master status belief system upon others regarding 'normalness' without apology because 'our way is the best way.' It has taken a lifetime to realize this fact that our way is not necessarily wrong. Black folks have always moved to the beat of a different drummer.

Prolific scholar, Arturo Madrid, expressed his thoughts on the subject in an article entitled 'Diversity and its Discontents.' 'The first half of my life, I spent downplaying the significance and consequence of otherness,' he offered. As I read, he captured and validated my own life experiences. I, too, have felt experience of the 'otherness' struggle. As a means of assimilating into dominant culture, I tried to forget it. However, my white schoolmates always 'reminded' me consistently that I was always too something: too dark, too Black, too bold, too passionate, too dumb, too smart, too skinny, too full-lipped, too much hip, too quiet, too loud, too nappy-headed, too scared, too cowardly, too awkward, and too ethnic. As I tried to assimilate, I felt like my soul was being severed from my authentic Black self. Despite the social constructionist rhetoric that suggests that we are all equals, the essentialist American climate often treats diversity as inferior. My fellow class chums failed to see me because they believed that they were 'better' than I was.

But many white children's lack of racial awareness exists primarily because they were taught never to view other minority groups as equals. Many families distanced themselves from 'others' to suburban communities to 'protect' their loved ones from 'those improper influences.' Interestingly, some white American heritage consists of 'other' minority ancestry tucked neatly away from public knowledge.

In fact, some white Americans may believe that they have an innate 'white identity.' However, this white identity norm is socially constructed. Case in point, when dark Italians, Irish and Jewish ethnic groups immigrated to the United States, they too were thought of as 'undesirable and abnormal others.' Within one generation, each group relinquished their ethnicity to become assimilated members of the 'white and privileged' dominant culture.

And still early in their children's lives, white parents continue to socialize them that they too must swallow the dominant American culture values. In most cases, their young children stumble upon this harsh truth when s/he 'befriends' a person of color. However, the grim reality encounter is instilled when the child brings the minority person to their home. Researcher Thandeka revealed in her article, The Cost of Whiteness, that this experience is common. 'The child is appropriately ridiculed by their parents and 'learns how to disengage and shun others.' Thus, the child conforms and disengages his/her feelings and how to dissociate themselves from other racial minorities,' she revealed.

Furthermore, as most white children matured, they were conditioned that the world was their 'oyster.' Their white identity had been strengthened within their immediate family constellation but reinforced by educational, governmental, media, religious, and social institutions. Upon multi-systemic levels, white children were taught that they could excel and were intellectually astute, more desirable, born leaders. Other racial groups simply became marginalized, invisible and unworthy.

Consequently, Madrid continued in his article, 'the second half [ of my life ] has seen me wrestling to understand its complex and deeply ingrained realities; striving to fathom why otherness denies me a voice or visibility or validity in American society and its institutions.' This passage burned a hole in my soul. Many Americans would believe that Kendrick had made it. He earns a great salary as well as occupational prestige. However, in his gut, Kendrick knows the truth: he is tolerated so long as he smiles and makes no waves. Thus, the 'be quiet and do as you are told' edict is unspoken but understood. As a professional, this ongoing validation and respect struggle is tiresome and mentally grueling. Thus, the American essentialist belief that Blacks are shiftless, lazy and mentally inferior to whites remains in full effect.

When dominant culture inflicts stereotypical ideals upon other ethnic/racial groups, their true freedom to reveal their true self is extinguished. Unfortunately, this form of oppression has been interwoven in the United States fabric and has become a unconscious ideology. In order for our country to truly become a true land of the free, we must relinquish such negative ideologies, which is not easy because it means giving up one's power.

If America admits that there are other belief systems just as valid, she could not have the privilege of being a powerhouse any longer. But then, America would become the home of the brave by truly embracing other minorities as equals.

Until that day, people of color must continue to fight for our respectable place at the power table of life. The struggle for equality and respect continues, but we must refuse to wallow in the negative stereotypic lies.

The question is, are we ready to claim our proper place? Judith Jamison, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance company, said it best: 'We can go on talking about racism and who treated whom badly, but what are you going to do about it? Are you going to wallow in that or are you going to create your own agenda?'

Ache.


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