Its really funny how we interact with race & racism in America, which is generally the overall avoidance of all interaction with race or racism for the most part. I was reading a load of Dr. Alan Goodman’s research work & it reminded me of my first conscious discovery that I was Black. You see, many of us have these moments of clarity but we very rarely recognize them or know that they are significant social processes/moments until someone points it out to us. To understand race & how racism affects people on a daily basis we all need to be able to not just create a discourse but we need to formulate a discourse with an interdisciplinary view point.
Ignorance as Sweet Innocent Bliss
So as a child, growing up in Buffalo, NY; the 6th most racially segregated city in the US; I knew that people were different. I simply thought that the differences between people was the beauty of humanity & that to the basic core we were all the same & that everybody was treated the same. I knew racism was out there but I never knew how to really identify it & I didn’t know how to critically analyze any behavior or treatment geared towards me to bring me to the conclusion that I was being discriminated against. I lived in a world of ignorance until I was 18 years old. And when they say ignorance is bliss, that is spot on. I lived in a world of unicorns, rainbows, & skittles.
So, when I began my undergraduate career at SUNY at Buffalo, I decided to join the Women’s Rowing team as a walk on because I wanted to work to get an athletic scholarship to help pay for me to go to school. Practice was about three hours long, six days a week. There were about forty to fifty women on the roster; & there were only three Black women including me within that population (the entire couching staff was also White/European descent). It was there, at practice everyday that I came to know that I was Black & NOT the same as everyone else. HOW? I had an interesting army of about forty to fifty White women remind me everyday that I was: Black, ghetto, boisterous, etc.. And the list goes on. The interaction changed for me every year as new people joined the team & others graduated but overall it was the same thing: “Why do you act so Black?” “Why do Black people do ___?” “Can you make your ass clap like in those videos on BET?” “Do you have a father?” These are just some of the questions I & some other teammates of color had to deal with on a daily basis not to mention the ostracism & mistreatment that came along with the comments & overall racist discourse.
What Happened Here???
I had no idea that I was Black until a large group of Whites told me I was NOT White or was NOT like them. This is a serious problem because of the superficial & incorrect ways that people define Black. In America, Black is defined as the antithesis of White. I realized that I was Black because I was told that I was the anti-thesis of White. I was an African participating in a predominately prestigious White sport at a predominately White institution whose campus is in the center of a White suburb in the 6th most segregated city in the US. My Blackness, my Africanness was extremely loud & apparent against such a purely White/European back drop. This makes me wonder what other people of African descent have had such interactions. When do people first consciously process their race & thus their social position & social capital? What factors affect this social process? What does this interaction say about what defines Black or African? We must ask these questions if we want to understand what causes these social processes.