THE OTHER THAT IS ME!

The Other
The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself as the norm and judges those who do not meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other. Perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal rights, may be characterized as less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html

I have worked with summer programs for 20+ years. In the early years, the programs were cocooned, separate from the majority culture. Though the population of children was somewhat diverse, the teachers and staff all looked like me, all African American.

The summer program to which I am now attached is of a different “color, “simply meaning, while some diversity is still in place in the student population, the teachers are mostly white. There is nothing wrong with this mix because the teachers (who are in the final stage of a credentials program) bring to the students all they need to continue to grow and stretch academically. However, we are housed on a campus with a separate program that is not used to such diversity, so the field is ripe for misunderstandings, assumptions and micro-aggressions … on their part, not mine.

Yes, this issue of the “Other that is Me” lies not with the students or the teachers but with the opinions of those around me who do not look like me, individuals whose only information about the “Other Who Is Me” may come through the media and/or opinions of people who also look just like them.

When the “Other That Is Me” comes into view, certain assumotions come into play about the capability and ability of the “Other Who Is Me” to function well, if even at all.

It is assumed that when a situation appears untenable or unmanageable, I will, of course, need assistance, without bothering to check with me to see if, indeed, I need any help at all.

It is assumed, when the children wander into spaces where they should not be (which children have been known to do), that I should be informed as to how such scenarios should be handled without even once just Informng me about the situation and trusting me to handle it because, after all, I do have some experience with this population and the program.

It is assumed that if a playground is left messy that it had to be our kids because, you know, that is how the “Others” roll. And yes, trash was left on the playground, but, having worked at the site during school years, I am well aware of messes left behind in the cafeteria and on those same playgrounds. When I do check out the “mess,” I discover trash along the perimeter of the playground that appears to have been there for a while. I leave it in place for their maintenance people to do their job.

I have been the “Other That Is Me” all my life though the burden of “Otherness” is not as much of a concern for me as it was when I was younger. I am more vocal these days about those things that need to be addressed in the moment. I see every such moment as an opportunity for someone to learn and to grow and to stretch, namely those individuals who can only see me, and the children, as the “Other.”

What I do need, as well, is the grace to speak the truth in love, to understand the micro-aggression as ignorance, the stereotype as uninformed and the assumption as asinine misinformation.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

 

RACE MATTERS

COURAGEOUS CONVERSATION #3

I am African American. For this I make no apologies.

I am an African American woman (occasionally angry, but most often, not). For this I make no apologies.

For me, everything is about race. For this I make no apologies.

Today, there seems to be those individuals who are determined to prove to me that we live in a post-racial society. In other words, race no longer matters when it comes to personal relationships, partnerships, friendships, business alliances, communities, politics, justice, et al.

I hear what you are saying, but your insistence that things “have changed” does not make it my truth.

Now, I will admit that my experience of growing up in the Jim Crow south may “color” my view of the world that surrounds me (pun intended), but I am also very away of the subtle nuances of race ignorance and race stereotypes that I encounter even at this stage of the game. You see, I have learned the signs and the signals simply because I have been black all my life.

You cannot persuade me with your knowledge of my culture or my code switching language (thanks perhaps to your personal history or social media) that race is no longer an issue in the good old U. S. of A.

Perhaps I should try to explain, just a little, why from my perspective, everything is about race.

I dared to return to my natural roots a few years ago after many years of subjecting it to the creamy crack. I even became more daring and would occasionally wear my hair full and natural to work at the independent school where I was very visible because I was one of few people of color. When I “went back,” I figured natural hair should no longer be an anomaly to anyone because of our initial return to our roots in the ’60s.

When I stepped into my Texas workplace, back in those early days, bravely sporting my new very much in place no hair out of place natural (it took courage for us to make that change), a few days later my supervisor wanted to talk to me about what seemed to be my “change in attitude.” The only thing that changed was my hair, in those days a style only worn by black radicals.

Still, that was then, so I wore my natural to work in 2014 thinking no longer a big deal. One day, as I step onto an elevator with my colleagues, one woman exclaims as she stretches forth her hand, “Oh, your hair. I just want to touch it!”

My eyes must have telegraphed a message to her about pulling back a nub, because she chose to back away from the hair.

Yep, everything, for me, is about race. The hair issue, again for me, is not about hair curiosity. It is about a history of a culture deeming it good luck to rub the head of a pickaninny. Don’t try to explain away this aversion; just honor my right to know my history and to say “No!” to anything that smacks of that travesty.

Here’s a funny little aside (as in interesting, not as in “ha ha”); as I was doing a spell check on “pickaninny,” Word kept bringing up “picnicking.” Whatchu know bout dat?

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Everything, for me, is about race. When I am ignored in that very elitist department store or when I am viewed as an interloper or better yet, when I am not so unobtrusively followed all around the store, I go back to those days when my mother could not try on clothes (though she could buy them) in any department store. Don’t try to explain away these actions as just the snootiness of that establishment. Again, allow me to remember my history and challenge this 21st century mindset.

I recently logged on to a webinar about marketing and Twitter. One of the benefits of connecting with the sponsor was free downloads of images to use since coupling images with Tweets apparently brings greater responses. The webinar was very useful and I was excited about the free images. The images are great, but there is just one little problem. There is no diversity reflected in the images of people, so I now have to scroll through each picture to find those images that work for this community based program’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Why did it not occur to these fantastic purveyors of marketing that their images were way too one note?

Do you know why it did not occur to them? Because they do not have to think about it, even in this so called post-racial age.

I have to think about race every day, whether I want to or not! I have to measure how I do what I do dependent on where I am and who is observing me when I do what I do because apparently, for some very strange reason as far back as I can remember, I am the poster child for every other African American in this society. Wait……..that only applies when I am acting up; when I am erudite, sophisticated and well spoken, I then become the exception and not the rule for African Americans.

In the early days after slavery, it became apparent to the powers that be that the former slaves and the poor white folk (perhaps even indentured servants) were beginning to form collaborations to improve both standings in communities. The former “Masters”  made it their business to drive a wedge between the two before they really began to realize the ideal of strength in numbers.

Dear white people, your history may run along a parallel track to mine, a track of poverty and hard luck life, but your history does not neatly mesh with mine. You can call your ancestors, “immigrants.” What exactly should I call mine?

Race is no longer an issue? A name straight out of fiction: “Annie.”

Dang! Even a comic strip character!

Yeah, for  me, everything is about race.

Feel free to chime in…….