In the past few weeks and months there has been an increase in the national dialogue of what it is to be black in the United States. Police brutality, Oscar snubs and the like are among the topics that are being flashed across the headlines. What does it really mean to be a person of color in the US? Are the issues with race relations still as much a part of our present and future as they were of our past? We are more than the color of our skin. America is still a melting pot of many races and creeds.
I must give a nod to my upbringing in Jamaica. It’s motto, “out of many, one people,” is how I’ve lived my life. Sure, I too have my own quirks regarding whom I like or don’t like, but what is not a part of that list of quirks is the color of someone’s skin. To be honest, when I moved back to the US at the age of 9 I remember my first best friends, they were white. That shifted over time and then shifted once more. By the time I was in high school I had an eclectic mix of friends. By that time I counted Caucasians, Asians and homosexuals among my closest friends. I had fewer and fewer friends of color.
This was not deliberate. At least, I didn’t feel that it was. I realized that the socioeconomics of where I lived meant that I was more like a cornucopia of people rather than simply identifying with a race. Being a light-skinned girl with a diverse ancestry meant that, for those who only saw color, I was either an uppity light-skinned black girl, a sell out, or anything in between. I remember how very early on, as my friends were more white and less black, that I was shunned by my darker skinned classmates and branded a sell out when I entered into an interracial dating relationship in middle school. I distinctly remember being approached by a “brother” who told me that my dating a white guy wasn’t right. I was confused and hurt but I brushed the ridicule aside. I liked the guy and hadn’t realized that my dating him would’ve caused so much gossip or be reason for outrage.
I soon realized that I was now living in the South. Discrimination and racism still existed, arguably more so than in other parts of the US. Because of the way I was raised I’ve always turned a blind eye to the ridiculousness of someone’s skin color determining their ability or likability. In my adulthood I realized that for me, I tended to be friends with individuals whom I could relate to socioeconomically and intellectually. And so, as stereotypes would have it, I had few black friends. And since I’m a bit of a hermit I’ve kept some of my old friends and haven’t made any new ones. Even if I were to make new friends, I don’t see it as shopping for shoes, only picking one color or style. In my experience, in the South, there can be some societal extremes and some norms. While not all stereotypes hold true, some are facts based on the environment itself. I remember lunch periods and pep rallies where there was a racial divide. Then there were the few “mixed” individuals scattered among the crowd. Just because you were raised one way, it doesn’t mean that you have to always believe it. Sure, you may be more predisposed in what you observed or learned as a child, but do you never challenge the things you are taught?
I’m not naive enough to think that race isn’t an issue. However, in my adulthood I am still struggling to understand why we’ve not overcome the narrow-mindedness of racial profiling and the news media’s seeming lack of concern for inciting even more controversy over events that are heartbreaking regardless of color. I’m sick of reading headlines saying that “black male beat up by police” or really any others that feel the need to include someone’s race in the subject where it is truly unnecessary.
We are all more than the color of our skin. I, for example, consider myself to be a long list of other things before I even consider my own race and I never think of the color of my skin. We’re all human beings. That’s all that really matters. I have never been the stereotype of my “race” but then again, what would the stereotype be for someone who has Jamaican, Irish and Indian blood flowing through their veins?! Answer. I’m whomever I want to be.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 1/28/15 issue of The Union-Recorder.