I am excited to be in my group working on The Politics of Language--Discourses of Race and Ethnicity. Doing this sort of research surrounding race is very enlightening and cathartic. For my "Why You Actin White" piece, my inner-voice that works when I am trying to sleep (which is a healthy one, it's my process) is strongly urging me to do a monologue or a narrative about my experience with literacy and my need to maintain "performance identities". Initially, I was angry with my community for denying my membership, and I still am. However, I am learning to connect my experiences with deeper meanings than being just a victim, I did not realize my experiences were also the product of "cultural mistrust". According to Terril (1981), cultural mistrust theory is the inclination among African Americans to mistrust whites with the most evident areas of education and training, business and work, interpersonal and social relations, and politics and law.
By doing just a little bit more reading on race and identity this past week, I uncovered why race relations are so dynamic in how it shapes the beliefs of our the victim and the oppressor. The perceived image of me "acting white" because of the way that I enunciated my words, how I wore my clothes, as well as my economic status were false to me. The fact that I was bused to a gifted and talented school all through elementary school, and then later my attending catholic high school, as a member of an all black urban community--theoretically, I was "white privilege".
When I started jotting things down, I remembered peers in my neighborhood having prejudice against those of us who lived in single /two family homes, opposed to the projects or subsidized row houses they lived in. Again, my neighborhood was a mix of middle class to working poor. I lived in an area that on one street it looked semi-suburban. Then you turned the corner and the next street was plagued with drug dealers, dilapidated houses, and poverty. The elementary school they attended mimicked this same social injustice. So that"mistrust" for the dominant culture was extended to me, since I was afforded similar opportunities and privileges of the dominant group.
In turn, it is the same "cultural mistrust" that I employ when I have negotiations with my 17 year old son, on navigating public spaces as a young black man. An AHA moment is in order.... This project is really showing me the perversity of racism. On the other hand I was enlightening to discover that my son has a different perspective on prejudice in his generation that differ from the attitudes of mine. I engaged in an impromptu conversation with him about race, which I sadly did not record because, I wanted to keep the integrity of his answers, without shoving a recording device in his face. I realized then that the conversations we had in the past were really from my standpoint on race, which made it that much more important.
For his generation (Gen Y), he says that prejudice for them is an outward display of one's own ignorance that has no inward bearing on the person being stereotyped. Everyone in his environment has an "urban attitude". They all dress like urban kids. He said you will find white kids who wear their pants "saggin". You will also find Black and Latino kids who only wear Abercrombie and Fitch. Nothing is exclusive to one culture. This is due mainly to the premise that kids identify more with figures they see in music and television. So parents are working hard to afford their kids the luxuries of clothing and technology, no matter their socioeconomic status. "Poor kids can look rich, and kids with money may look poor, because they just don't buy into the mainstream high-end fashion. They may choose to dress like a skate boarder, with ripped jeans and worn out sneakers.White girls wear hair extensions and weaves. It is about individual choices."
To him, kids are more individualistic rather than identifying with race. They have more prejudices being identified as Emo, Cutters or suicidal; things that are psychological in nature. His peers are actually looking for ways to form their own identities against cultures of any kind. " Sometimes the Haitian kids say don't call me black. The Cuban kids, don't want to be mistaken for Puerto Rican. Every one is proud of their own heritage apart from the broader cultures".
I asked him to describe a time when he felt discrimination. He said, there are times the police will roll up on a bunch of black kids walking home from school, but they don't mind it. He feels that is the nature of being black, these things are just inherent. "We learned to expect and accept it. We live in a equally diverse community, so I don't feel threatened." But, at the same token he understands my perspective on "performance identity" because if he ventures into a predominately white area, things may be different. However, in his immediate environment "performance identities" just means you are afraid to be yourself, so it's a negative. This clearly signifies that the discourse regarding race is situational in this discourse community. I also want to investigate if this is the beliefs of his peers or just the way that I have taught him to view things from both sides of the coin. He has always been wise beyond his years.
These issues need to be brought to the forefront and my hopes are to convey that in my monologue or spoken word essay. My only disclaimer with my monologue is that my sleep-state self is much smarter than my awake self. I am a little bit nervous about performing for my project, and really the execution. I have never done this before. Writing this piece has to have so much meaning, but the inner self says do it.