Friday, October 31, 2008

Come As You Are(n't?)

The following post is not one that I wrote for the Sierra effect. It's actually a response that I wrote to an email I received a few months ago, in which, an old classmate (who happened to be African American himself) stated that he always thought I was an "Oreo." Although his words were very derogatory in nature and meant as somewhat of an insult to me, I was not angry. I was, however, sad....for him.
I was teased on countless occasions by my Black counterparts as a child for "talking White" or "acting White," whatever that was supposed to mean. As a young child, it hurt to be laughed at by people that I wanted to accept and befriend me. I attempted to dress, speak and behave in the way that my antagonists did, in hopes that I would receive the stamp of approval for my Blackness. It would be years before I came to know and embrace who I was...years of pain and emptiness that came from trying to be something other than Sierra.
I thought Halloween, a day when everyone goes out as something they aren't, would be a great day to declare that I celebrate all that makes me who I am. It's a little lengthy, but I promise you, it's from my heart. As always, your comments are welcome:

Racism is ignorance at its highest. You would think that after centuries of oppression and persecution of our people by other races, we would at least have evolved beyond the point of holding such ridiculous stereotypes and biases against one another. It's sad to see that even after we struggled for the freedom to be accepted for who we are for so long, many Black people's minds still haven't progressed from the slave mentality. You should really read the Miseducation of the might help you move past that point. It explains how slave owners conditioned our minds to believe that we had to live up to the inferior standards of who they told us we had to be. It also states that once you've become conditioned to that slave mentality, after awhile you won't even have to be told that that's what you are, you just accept it and begin to live that way.

"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."

In your case, and others whose minds haven't been able to progress beyond slavery times, you still believe that we have to speak, think and behave a certain way in order to "be Black." I'm sure this isn't the first time you have heard these famous words, but maybe now you will actually think about them. They are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who devoted his entire life (and even died), to eliminate the very ignorance and bias that you, in 2008, are perpetuating.

"I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality."

We're angry enough to shoot when we feel that we have been mistreated on the basis of our race, yet we freely condemn one another on the basis of ridiculous opinions of what it means to be Black. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in the 1860's...when will we get the memo that we are free? Not just physically...mentally...break the chains, dude! Seriously, oreo? Are we still there? Black people...WE HAVE TO DO BETTER! We've become so progressive in so many other ways...we drive cars so advanced that they can literally tell us when something's wrong with them...our cell phones can give us turn by turn directions to where we want to go, but yet we can't wrap our minds around the concept that just because someone speaks differently (like pronouncing the vowels in words) and has expanded their mind beyond the constraints of "hip-hop culture" that somehow their allegiance to the Black race is to be questioned or that they are. in effect, less Black or "wanna be White."

I love who I am and am proud to be a Black woman. I have worked very hard to get to where I am and refuse to mask or dumb-down any part of who I am in order to satisfy anyone's idea of what I should be. You know, I couldn't even be angry with you for your statement...nope, not angry at all. It actually makes me's this type of antiquated, reactionary thinking that's a slap in the face to all those who have lived and died in the struggle for equality. I feel sorry for those who haven't gotten the news yet...we are free...Black people, White people, Asian people...ALL PEOPLE: WE HAVE TO DO BETTER.

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss:)